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Heart Disease Health Center

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Stress Breaks Hearts

Emotional Stress Alters Heart Function, Ups Heart Disease Risk

Heartache, Heart Harm continued...

Even when intense bouts of emotion don't kill, they may cause long-lasting heart damage.

"Most people who suffer the death of a loved one are not coming to medical attention, but that does not mean their hearts are not stunned for a period of time," Brotman says. "We doctors only see those with heart failure, or those with already-damaged hearts whose defibrillators fire. But probably, in every body, what stress hormones do today have some impact on how healthy your cardiovascular system will be 20 years from now."

It would seem to be wise for all of us to learn to deal with stressful emotions. But Brotman warns that there does not seem to be any one-size-fits-all way to do this.

"We don't have concrete evidence to suggest that if you manage your stress levels you will reduce your cardiovascular risk," he says. "People are different and have different ways of reducing stress. It is disingenuous to suggest that stress reduction is going to be simple."

Meanwhile, he urges doctors to pay more attention to what their patients are telling them when they talk about stress.

"Real-time physical effects correlate with intense emotional states," Brotman says. "We should think beyond cholesterol, beyond blood pressure, when thinking about what it means to live a heart-healthy lifestyle."

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