Thousands of Americans are stressed out as they recover from the various natural disasters that shook our country recently. Unfortunately, when people are in these situations the last thing they think about is their health.
However, a cardiologist with Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center says if a person is not careful, prolonged stressful situations can trigger inflammation and risk factors that can enhance the chances of developing heart disease or making it worse for those who already have it.
"Traditionally, stress alone does not cause heart disease, but recent studies show that it can cause inflammation that affects the blood vessels that deliver blood to the body, including the heart and brain. This inflammation can potentially lead to heart attacks, strokes and other health problems," said William A. Zoghbi, M.D., chief of cardiology at Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center. "If someone has risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, chronic stressful situations can have a potentiating harmful effect."
A study by a group of Tulane University cardiologists found that the number of heart attack-related hospital admissions continued to rise 10 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. In addition, another group of researchers found that, compared to five years prior, heart attacks increased by more than 20 percent in the parts of New Jersey decimated by Hurricane Sandy.
People in high stress situations find it hard to focus because the tragedy is so overwhelming. This causes some to eat poorly, drink too much alcohol, chain smoke, neglect exercise and not get enough sleep. Zoghbi says it's imperative to find time in the chaos for easing and reducing the stress.
"The hormones released by the sympathetic nervous system are increased in the body when there is a stressful situation and can increase one's heart rate and blood pressure," said Zoghbi, who is also the past president of the American College of Cardiology (ACC). "Whether it is taking a walk, playing with your kids, meditating or exercising for 30 minutes a day, or just reading a book, it's important that a person take time for themselves to just rest or decompress."
Zoghbi suggests in challenging times people should find a stress management class, engage with supportive friends and family, talk to a psychologist or whatever it takes to avoid heart disease and other potentially fatal ailments in the future.