How Does Stress Contribute to Heart Attacks?

Surprisingly, the connection between emotional stress levels and heart attacks may not be as apparent as one might believe. While it is certainly a good idea to reduce both physical and emotional stress levels, the scenario of suffering a massive heart attack immediately following an emotionally stressful event is most likely more myth than fact. Stress in and of itself does not create a fatal heart condition.

If anything, a certain amount of physical stress, whether it be exercise or work-related, can actually be beneficial to cardiovascular health. The more a muscle is challenged or exercised, the stronger it becomes. A reasonable amount of physical stress strengthens the heart muscles and should reduce the probability of heart attacks or other heart diseases. If a weakened or diseased heart is overworked through excessive physical exertion, however, it can reach a failure point. Physical stress, however, is not generally considered responsible for weakening heart muscles or aggravating an existing heart condition.

Emotional stress, on the other hand, is often seen as a potential trigger for heart attacks. Again, the direct connection between a person's emotional stress level and propensity for heart attacks is tenuous at best. Rather, the effects of emotional stress can cause a person to make dangerous or health-threatening lifestyle choices which in turn can raise the probability of heart attacks later in life.

For example, emotional stress may cause a person to seek comfort in an extremely unhealthy diet, accompanied by a largely sedentary lifestyle. While the stress itself does not damage heart tissue directly, the cumulative effects of unhealthy foods and lack of exercise could lead to clogged arteries and poor cardiovascular conditioning. These conditions are more likely to contribute to the formation of dangerous blood clots or a weakening of the heart muscle itself, and eventually lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Stress could also cause some people to engage in other high-risk behaviors, such as heavy drinking, cigarette smoking or habitual gambling. Combined with a volatile or defensive personality, a person could find him or herself refusing to seek out professional medical help. This could mean vital warning signs for heart disease could remain undiagnosed and untreated, which in turn could lead to heart attacks if the destructive lifestyle pattern continues unchecked.