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Does the Heart React the Same Way to All Stress?

Stress tests help show how the heart responds to stress, but is all stress the same to the heart. Cardiologists at Huntington Heart Center weigh in.

Stress is an inclusive term, but different kinds of stress have very different implications for the heart. Unfortunately, stress is synonymous with problems and resultant poor health due to the typical modern American lifestyle. When we discuss stress, we often focus on the issues in our lives that trigger our inherent fight or flight reaction. Historically, this was only activated when we, as humans, experienced life or death situations. However, as these genuinely frightening occurrences have become rare, the consequences of sustained chronic stress have proliferated. Chronic stress releases several hormones into the body that can cause us to gain weight increase our cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure.

Physical Stress

Physical stress can mean one of a couple of things. It can connote negative pressure on the body, but it is also the definition of exercise. The former, of course, can be damaging, while the latter is very beneficial. When we place stress on our body through physical means, we are conditioning it to perform better in the future. All the while, our bodies produce endorphins and adrenaline, making us more motivated and happier. Just think of how you feel after a good workout – that feeling that you could take over the world is not coincidental.

And while physical exercise and the stress on the heart that it provides is very beneficial, it can also uncover underlying cardiovascular issues. For example, there is a reason why many heart attacks occur after physical activity. This is because the heart requires a significant amount of oxygen while pumping hard and fast. However, if blood vessels are narrowed due to atherosclerosis, the heart may not receive that vital blood flow and go into cardiac arrest.

This is precisely the purpose of a stress test, which is a physical activity to measure the ability of the body to deliver blood throughout the body efficiently.

What Can Be Done?

On the one hand, we encourage all our patients to increase the amount of exercise-related stress they place on their bodies through improved lifestyle choices. This may include walking, bike riding, and other activities that increase heart rate. Of course, this must be done within the bounds of one’s abilities and without overstressing the heart. If you have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, it is critically important to speak to your cardiologist to ensure that the exercise regimen you pursue is appropriate for your condition.

On the other hand, we want to work closely with you to minimize the psychological stress that can cause a host of significant problems that can ultimately lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

It is important to remember that your heart health is a microcosm of your overall body’s health. Self-care is holistic and requires dedication and focus to improvement where my campaigns in all aspects of your life. If it’s time to see a cardiologist about your heart’s health, we encourage you to schedule a consultation to discuss managing your condition.

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