Heart failure risk rises when stress, anger consumes us

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Stress and anger have significant impacts on your overall health. If you’re dealing with the ramifications of heart failure, experiencing more stress and anger can cause even more problems. New research shows how mental stresses can have a profound effect on the heart, leading to an increased risk of death.

Researchers from Yale University examined 24 patients with cardiovascular disease, testing the effects of stress and anger on diastolic function. This is the heart’s ability to relax and refill with blood between muscle contractions.

Over the course of one week, participants completed daily questionnaires looking at their experiences with stress and negativity from the past 24 hours. The group also took a mental stress exam, challenging them with math problems and questions about recent stressful situations. Researchers then used an echocardiogram to check the blood flow through the heart at rest and while under stress.

The report reveals diastolic function worsens for patients who report experiencing anger within a week of their mental stress examination. Researchers add complications of stress decreases early relaxation and increases diastolic pressure in the heart.

“Mental stress is common in patients with heart failure due in part to the complexities of disease self-management, progressively worsening functional limitations, and frequent symptom exacerbations and hospitalizations,” says lead author Kristie Harris in a university release.

COVID-19 is making life worse for heart failure patients

The study also finds people with cardiovascular disease face many challenges which can lead to a stressful life. The COVID-19 pandemic only adds to those frustrations.

“We have evidence that patients who experience chronically elevated levels of stress experience a more burdensome disease course with diminished quality of life and increased risk for adverse events,” Harris explains. “Clarifying the relevant behavioral and physiological pathways is especially important in the era of COVID-19 when the typical stressors of heart failure may be further compounded by pandemic-related stressors.”

Quality of life changes, PTSD, and anxiety over future issues can all increase stress and anger, researchers say.

“Factors such as mental stress and anger often go unrecognized and are under-addressed,” says Yale clinical psychologist Matthew Burg. “This study contributes to the extensive literature showing that stress and anger affect clinical outcomes for patients with heart disease, adding chronic heart failure to the list that includes ischemic heart disease (narrowed arteries) and arrhythmic disease.”

The study authors are now looking at how stress management techniques may reduce the adverse effects of heart disease.

The study is published in the Journal of Cardiac Failure.

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