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Stress and heart diseases - everything important about the connections
Too much stress poses a significant health risk. The stress increases the risk of high blood pressure and serious heart diseases. The German Heart Foundation has summarized the connections between heart diseases and mental stress and what countermeasures can be taken in a current press release.
"Stress and mental stress increase blood pressure and, in the long term, the risk of developing a heart disease," explains the German Heart Foundation. Heart disease in turn can put a lot of strain on the psyche and cause stress, the heart foundation continues. Psychocardiology is dedicated to these contexts. The Heart Foundation outlined the current state of research in the January issue of its journal "HERZ heute".
Which body reactions cause stress
Stress directly affects the autonomic nervous system, with the heart and respiratory rate accelerating and the muscles being supplied with more blood. We are becoming more alert and irritable, explains the German Heart Foundation. These body reactions, which are vital for our ancestors in dangerous situations (flight or attack), still enable us today to "react quickly in dangerous situations and use maximum physical strength", the heart foundation continues.
Rising blood pressure during stress
In contrast to the past, today's stress is rarely associated with muscle activity and it often lasts longer, which can have health consequences. "Activating the heart and circulation without muscle activity increases blood pressure," explains Professor Dr. med. Christoph Herrmann-Lingen, Director of the Clinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the University Medical Center Göttingen and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the German Heart Foundation.
Damage to blood vessels and the heart
When stressed over a long period of time, the organism gets used to the high blood pressure and a hypertension develops. In addition, the blood clots change when stressed and the blood vessels constrict, so that they clog more easily. "In the long term, the coronary arteries can narrow significantly, which can lead to damage to the heart muscle, cardiac arrhythmias, heart attacks or heart failure," says Professor Herrmann-Lingen. If the recovery phases are missing, the stress becomes a significant health risk.
Heart disease as a cause of stress
Conversely, according to the expert, heart disease is also a possible cause of stress. "Experiencing severe organic heart disease almost always leads to fear of death, even if you are not always consciously aware of it," emphasizes the director of the Clinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the University Medical Center Göttingen.
Vicious circle of heart disease and mental health problems
For example, an existing heart disease can put a great strain on the psyche, especially if the therapy is accompanied by additional stress, such as the shock delivery of an implanted defibrillator or increased hospital stays. “As a result, fears and other psychological problems can develop, which in turn strain the heart. It is not uncommon for there to be a vicious circle of heart disease and psychological problems, ”explains Professor Herrmann-Lingen.
Uncertainty with functional heart problems
Some sufferers experience functional heart problems such as rapid heartbeat or stumbling in the event of fear and stress, even though the heart is (still) healthy, the German Heart Foundation reports. Purely physical medicine treatment cannot help them, which often unsettles them. "Some patients observe their pulse, blood pressure and heart complaints particularly closely and avoid positive activities such as sports because of the - actually unfounded - concern about a heart attack," continues Professor Herrmann-Lingen.
Interdisciplinary treatment cooperation
In order not to let the vicious circle of stress and heart diseases arise in the first place, many cardiological acute clinics are now working closely with psychosomatic services. The German Heart Foundation reports that the affected person is offered supportive discussions and help with further therapy planning during the hospital stay. For example, it is helpful to attend information events and stress management courses in addition to medical treatment.
In addition, discussions with other sufferers can be useful and, last but not least, “a consistent physical training program often helps to regain confidence in the heart and body,” says the German Heart Foundation.
People are susceptible to stress in different ways
In general, various methods of stress relief are recommended for high stress levels, such as autogenic training or yoga, in order to avoid health consequences. However, not all people are equally susceptible to stress. According to the German Heart Foundation, genetic factors and childhood experiences, for example, affect how stressful we are later as adults. (fp)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters
- German Heart Foundation: Stress for the soul is a strain on the heart (published 02/10/2020), herzstiftung.de