|| DukeMedNews || Everyday Stresses Can Damage the Heart

This week on Duke MedMinute: Elizabeth Gullette, research assistant in psychology at Duke, talks about a study published in the May 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study shows that such common emotions as tension, frustration and sadness trigger frequent and painless heart abnormalities that can lead to permanent heart damage. The researchers reported they have demonstrated a direct, cause-and-effect relationship between negative emotions and an increased risk of myocardial ischemia. This ischemia results from inadequate flow of blood to the heart and can be a precursor to heart attacks.

Suggested lead: The evidence that stress is bad for your heart continues to grow. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center report in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association that even common emotions can trigger heart abnormalities. Melinda Stubbee has details.

Gullette describes the study’s main finding in Cut 1.

Cut 1…more than double…:18
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Gullette says this is the first time the degree of risk associated with stress has been documented, and the researchers were very surprised at the importance of negative emotions in triggering ischemia, as well as the size of the risk. She says only a minority of the patients they studied experienced chest pain, suggesting that patients were unaware that stress was affecting their hearts. In Cut 2, Gullette says those results present a good news/bad news scenario.

Cut 2…negative situations…:21
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In this study, 58 heart patients wore a portable electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor at home and at work and recorded in a diary their moods and symptoms three times an hour — during waking hours — for two days. The researchers the ECG data with diary information, and found that the episodes of ischemia were more than twice as likely to occur in the hour following emotional stress compared to the non-stress hours. They found that high levels of negative emotions were associated with a two- to three-fold increased risk for myocardial ischemia compared to low levels of these emotions

In addition to the higher risk for negative emotions, Gullette also found that heart patients had a 13 times higher risk of ischemia after heavy activity, and two times higher risk after moderate and light activity. Heavy activity, however, occurs relatively infrequently, while stress levels may fluctuate significantly over the course of the day. She says that behavior modification/stress management can help people with heart disease reduce their chances of having problems in the future.