Stress is a normal part of life. Stress can come from physical causes, such as not getting enough sleep or having an illness. It can come from mental causes, such as not having enough money or death of a loved one, or less dramatic causes, such as everyday obligations and pressures that make you feel that you are not in control.
Your body's response to stress was designed to protect you, but if it is constantly activated it can harm you. Studies suggest that the high levels of cortisol from chronic stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. These are traditional risk factors for heart disease.
Chronic stress can cause physiological changes that promote atherosclerosis, the slow buildup of plaque deposits in the heart's arteries.
Relatively minor stresses also can trigger heart problems, such as myocardial ischemia. This is a condition in which the heart doesn't get enough blood. Chronic stress can also affect how the blood clots. It can make the blood stickier and increase your risk for stroke.
In addition, people who experience chronic stress may tend to smoke more and be more sedentary.
What to do
People respond to stressful situations differently. Some react strongly to a situation. Others are relaxed and unconcerned. Fortunately, you can decrease the effect of stress on your body. First, identify situations that cause you stress. Then learn to control your mental and physical reactions to these stressful situations. Adopt lifestyle habits that make you less vulnerable to the effects stress has on your heart.