Chronic stress can be fatal- no question there. But what is less understood is how it can contribute to your demise, or what role it plays in dysfunction of the heart. For years, people have attributed heart disease (and subsequent failure) to consumption of too many fats, when there is actually much more at play. Fat is merely one part of the complete picture, with stress actually having a much more prominent role in development of heart failure.
However, unlike diet, which takes years for its toll on the heart to be revealed, you may be surprised with the speed that stress can cause an otherwise normal heart and circulatory system to deteriorate.
Stress Makes Blood Vessels Inflexible
Blood vessels have the innate ability to expand and contract as the need dictates, but can be artificially controlled via the influence of hormones or other compounds. In the case of the stress hormones; cortisol and Adrenaline, the blood vessels are chronically constricted so that they become unable to adjust to needs of the heart and blood.
Depending on the diameter of the blood vessels inside area, the heart either has to work harder or not, and as it happens a smaller lumen (this is the name for the inside diameter) area makes the heart work much harder.
Stress Worsens Blood Pressure
You may have heard that stress can bring about high blood pressure, and turns out that this is actually true. While acute bouts of stress won’t leave a negative imprint on your blood pressure, consistently elevated levels of stress hormones will.
For one, cortisol promotes sodium retention, which is bad by itself but made worse because it subsequently promotes water retention by the body. The more water the body retains, the greater blood volume is in turn. Higher blood volume, coupled with small blood vessels is a horrible recipe for hypertension.
Stress Hastens Formation Of Atherosclerotic Plaques In Blood Vessels
High cholesterol is implicated in causing buildup of plaques in arteries, but this is only partly true. Stress hormones cortisol, an enzyme named angiotensin and other factors cause damage inside blood vessels, which then lead to recruitment of immune cells to the area of damage. In turn, the body forms an internal clot which is compounded upon with deposits of this atherosclerotic plaque. These “blobs” are balls of inflammation which keep sending immune signals for reinforcements, and the cycle continues until the heart is unable to get sufficient blood past the blockages and failure ensues.
Heart Failure Is Precipitated By A Heart Attack
Heart failure almost always follows a heart attack, during which there is damage or death to a part of the heart involved in the pumping of blood. The result is a heart that can no longer meet its mandate, and the heart is said to be in “heart failure.”
At this point, various avenues need to be examined to promote contractility of the heart in an effort to compensate for the area that is now non-functional. If stress is not rapidly addressed, a subsequent attack is likely to occur and possibility of further damage to the already fragile heart.
Stress Can Cause Heart Rhythm Abnormalities
Palpitations are among the most reported heart rhythm disorders and is most often identified by the individual being made aware of the heart contractions. Normally, you are not aware of the beats your heart make, but when you do they may seem much more rapid than it should be.
Adrenaline directly affects the heart rate, and is a somewhat compensatory mechanism when cortisol is flooding the blood. However, when the heart canât keep up with these demands, or oxygen cannot be delivered fast enough, a heart attack occurs and heart failure is set in motion.