Stress May Hurt the Tender Heart

Some Hearts Handle Stress Better Than Others, and Stress Management Can Help, Expert Says

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC on March 24, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

March 24, 2008 -- Psychological stress may be bad for the heart, but stress management helps.

So says psychiatry professor Joel Dimsdale, MD, of the University of California at San Diego.

Writing in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology's April 1 edition, Dimsdale reviews 30 years of research on stress and cardiovascular disease.

Dimsdale's report ranges from major stressors, such as earthquakes, to the daily grind of work stress, bad marriages, or caregiving. Here are some of his main points:

  • Short, drastic stressors, such as earthquakes, are often followed by a spike in heart disease deaths.
  • Short, but relatively minor stressors, such as a mental math quiz, may trigger chest pain and heart rhythm abnormalities in some people.
  • Job stress, marital stress, caregiver stress, and other chronic stressors have been linked to higher blood pressure, coronary "events," and heart disease deaths.

But Dimsdale stops short of blaming heart disease on stress because many other factors are involved. For instance, if a stressed person eats badly, smokes, and doesn't get enough physical activity, they have a host of heart risks apart from their stress.


"It is clear that psychological stressors contribute to cardiovascular disease, but how much?" Dimsdale writes.

Some people deal with stress better than others, and stress is in the eye of the beholder, Dimsdale observes. He adds that brooding about stress can just make matters worse.

Because stress is a part of life, Dimsdale urges people to upgrade their stress management skills. Psychotherapy, meditation, exercise, and training in time management and relaxation are among the options he mentions.

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Dimsdale, J. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, April 1, 2008.

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