The Science of Stress on the Heart

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Stress in all of its many forms can be harmful to your heart. Whether its relationship problems or the pressures at work, the body tends to shift into a primitive protective gear called “fight or flight.”

Mark Bernstein, MD, a cardiovascular disease specialist at Michigan Heart, offers tips for identifying stress and how to find healthy avenues to avoid its negative physical effects.

In scientific terms, stressful events or feelings trigger a part of the brain called the locus coeruleus, which processes sensory input and can increase or decrease awareness of surroundings through its autonomic nervous system.

The hypothalamic/pituitary/adrenal axis will cause hormones to be excreted that will aid in the “fight or flight” response.  CRF is secreted by the hypothalamus, which in turn secrets ACTH, which will in turn secrete cortisol, which increases the availability of sugar to the body.

The adrenal gland will also secrete epinephrine, which will increase heart rate and increase blood supply to the muscles and shuts down digestion and sexual system until stress is relieved.

For a short time these responses are appropriate and beneficial, however, if present for a prolonged time the can lead to increased blood sugar, elevated blood pressure, fluid retention, activated platelets (which can lead to heart attacks) and decreased immune response, which can lead chronically stressed people to be more prone to illness.

Why is stress bad for the body?
When dealing with relationship issues and the pressures of work, the body shifts into a primitive protective gear called “fight or flight.” The brain stimulates sugar production in the body, increases the heart rate and shuts down the digestive system and sexual system until stress is relieved. These defensive measures offer short-term relief but prolonged stress drives up the risk of heart attack and lead to chronic illnesses.

How do people react to stress?
People react to stress in different ways. Some people experience physical reactions such as heart palpitations, headaches, ulcers, lack of appetite, overeating, anxiety and depression. These conditions are exacerbated by the use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs and lack of sleep.

What are some ways to reduce the physical effects of stress?
For starters, reducing or eliminating bad behaviors can lower risk of developing heart disease. Anxiety medications are an option but they are not a good long-term solution. There are a variety of ways to help people reach a sense of relaxation and well-being. These techniques include meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, music, reading, religion, exercise, healthy eating, and social interaction.

For more information, visit http://www.michiganheart.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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