Can Business Related Stress Cause a Heart Attack?

Posted on Monday, April 22, 2019

High-powered business people tend to have an elevated risk of suffering a heart attack, whether induced by stress, genetics, or an unhealthy lifestyle.

Uncontrollable Risks

The American Heart Association lists the following risk factors for heart disease over which there is no control:

Age. The majority of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 years of age or older. Older women are more likely than men are to die from heart attacks within a few weeks.

Gender. Men have a greater risk of heart attacks than women, and have them earlier in life.

Genetics. Family history and race also play a major role. Children of heart attack victims are likely to develop heart disease. African Americans have a higher risk because they have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians. Risks are also higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans.

More Statistics

In the United States, there are about 790,000 heart attacks a year with 360,000 deaths.

Cardiovascular disease accounts for nearly 801,000 U.S. deaths.

In recent years, fewer incidents of cardiac arrest occur in hospitals than outside of hospitals. Not surprisingly, the survivor rate for adults is better in a hospital — about 23-25% as compared with 10-12% outside a hospital.

And while it often seems that when someone dies suddenly due to a heart attack that there was no way to see it coming, experts say that there is almost always some underlying arteriosclerosis, or thickening and hardening of the artery walls that may block the arteries. 

Heart attacks result from blockages in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. There have been high-profile business people who suffered heart attacks, and many wonder if their job stress contributed to them.

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the country. (See right-hand box for more statistics.) But can a person die of a heart attack brought on entirely by stress? 

There have been many studies of sudden death that address the issue, and most experts agree that while long-term stress can contribute to a heart attack, it isn't likely to be the sole cause of death. 

For example:

Chronically stressed individuals tend to have higher heart rates and blood pressure, and they release a hormone that may play a role in depositing fat around the middle of the body.

Severe stress can causean increased heart rate and increased blood flow through vessels already narrowed by arterial plaques. This makes the plaques more likely to rupture, which can in turn cause a blood clot and heart attack.

Depression can result from stress and is also a risk factor, perhaps because blood platelets are more likely to cause blood clots in depressed people.

Among some of the findings linking stress to heart disease are:

Stressful jobs. One study found that men and women with chronic on-the-job stress were more likely than those with no work stress to develop cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels.

Uncontrollable stress, such as the loss of a job, death of a spouse or facing prison, can be associated with sudden cardiac death. Researchers found that job loss doubles the risk of heart attack or stroke for workers in their 50s and 60s. Those individuals were more than twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke compared with those who remained employed.

Severe emotional stress was a factor in 15% to 30% of heart attack patients admitted to a medical center, according to another study.

So, if your environment is stressful, it's recommended that you consult a doctor about tests to gauge your heart risk. Not everyone, of course, recognizes stress. Here are some of the symptoms:

• Irritability   • Elevated heart rate   • Increased blood pressure

• Trembling  • Increased proneness to accident       

• Anxiety for no reason   • Insomnia  • Headache   • Indigestion 

• Neck or lower back pain   • Appetite or sleep changes

Stress builds, so if you experience any of those symptoms, here are some tips on coping:

Exercise regularly after getting your doctor's approval.

Eat and drink sensibly including well-balanced meals, and more whole grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Reduce refined sugars and avoid caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety, insomnia, nervousness, and trembling.

Stop smoking and reduce alcohol and drugs. These substances may add to headaches and swelling, decrease coping mechanisms and add to depression.

Get enough rest and relax. The time you spend resting should be long enough to relax your mind as well as your body. Spend time each day using such relaxation techniques as imagery, daydreaming, prayer, yoga, or meditation. Listening to slow or meditative music can also help.

Take charge of what you can control and try to ignore the rest. Set priorities, avoid hassles when possible, and keep a reasonable, rather than overloaded schedule.

Set realistic goals and expectations, recognizing that no one can be completely successful at everything at once.

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Disclaimer: The information contained in Dulin, Ward & DeWald’s blog is provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial or legal advice on any subject matter. Before taking any action based on this information, we strongly encourage you to consult competent legal, accounting or other professional advice about your specific situation. Questions on blog posts may be submitted to your DWD representative.

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