People who experience stress in their daily lives are more likely to develop heart disease than those who do not experience as much stress, according to a new review of earlier studies.
One of the authors of the study and professor at Columbia University Medical Center Donald Edmundson, said “everybody knows that stress is bad for the heart, but the evidence has been scattered out over the years.”
Starting with a large British study from the 1960s that found an increased heart disease risk among poor people, researchers have linked stress to poor heart health.
And just recently, a study of 200,000 people in Europe showed that those who have stressful jobs are more likely to receive a diagnosis of heart disease than people whose jobs are less demanding and offer more freedom.
Some studies used a scale of how frequently or how severely the people felt stressed out, while others used a simple yes or no response to the question of whether someone had felt stressed.
According to the National Institutes of Health, coronary heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the U.S., with more than 400,000 people dying from the condition each year.
Edmundson said the rise in heart disease risk related to stress is equivalent to smoking five cigarettes a day. However, there is no ironclad proof that stress is to blame for the heart problems. One possible explanation is that stress raises the blood levels of hormones that can be take a toll on the heart.
In addition, people who are stressed might behave in ways that are less healthy, “like smoking, unhealthy dietary choices, physical inactivity etc. These mechanisms usually interact, making the situation much more complicated.”