November 6, 2023
Two new studies have found that a person’s mental state can have a significant impact on their heart health. The first study discovered that depression and anxiety can accelerate the development of heart risk factors such as elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, or type 2 diabetes. Individuals diagnosed with these mood disorders developed a new heart health risk factor about six months earlier on average than those without such disorders. Furthermore, depression and anxiety increased the risk of heart attack, stroke, or other major events by approximately 35%.
The second study explored the relationship between chronic stress and heart disease. Researchers found that chronic stress is associated with the development of heart disease and clogged arteries. Even after considering other risk factors like blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and cholesterol, stress was still significantly linked to a 22% increase in the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries and a 20% increase in the overall risk of heart disease. The researchers suggest that stress not only directly affects physical well-being but also leads to poor lifestyle choices that contribute to heart health issues.
Dr. Glenn Levine, who oversaw the writing of the American Heart Association’s scientific report on the mind-heart-body connection, emphasized the clear associations between psychological health and the risk of cardiovascular disease. He highlighted that these studies add to the growing body of data on how negative psychological health can increase the risk of heart and brain diseases.
In the first study, researchers analyzed data from over 71,000 adults and discovered that those with a genetic predisposition to stress tended to develop their first heart health risk factor about a year and a half earlier on average than those without increased genetic risk. Dr. Giovanni Civieri, lead author of the study, noted that developing cardiovascular risk factors more than six months earlier for an average of five years is a significant concern. He also highlighted that the genetic analysis supported the clinical findings, offering more confidence in the results.
The second study involved nearly 2,700 adults without existing heart disease who were followed for an average of 12 years. Participants filled out a detailed questionnaire about their daily sources of stress, and researchers calculated a “cumulative stress score” for each person. This score was significantly associated with the development of heart disease, further highlighting the impact of stress on heart health.
Dr. Ijeoma Eleazu, a cardiologist in training at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, stressed the importance of addressing stress levels for better heart health. She urged more patients to discuss their stress levels with their doctors and for physicians to assess the stress burden in their patients. By working together, they can combat adverse outcomes and improve overall health.
These findings, to be presented at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting, highlight the need for mental health evaluations in individuals predisposed to cardiac risk factors. By recognizing the mind-heart connection, healthcare professionals can provide comprehensive care that encompasses both mental and physical health.
Although the research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal, these studies contribute to the growing understanding of the complex relationship between mental health and heart health.
For more information on stress and heart health, visit the American Heart Association’s website.