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Stress and cardiovascular disease
The stresses of life have long been thought to increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease or a serious coronary or cerebral event. But it is not universally agreed which stress causes heart disease.

In Australia, an expert group concluded that there is strong and consistent link between depression, social isolation and lack of quality social support and heart disease.  These factors were as risky to heart health as abnormal blood lipid levels, smoking and high blood pressure.

But the same group did not find a link between heart disease and chronic life events, job stress, Type A behavior patterns, hostility, anxiety disorders or panic disorders.

Elsewhere, other researchers have found a strong link between anxiety and heart disease. 

One study found a linear progression between self-reported psychological stress and damage to the carotid artery. The extensive Whitehall Study in the UK among government employees found that those with the least control over their work had the highest rates of heart disease.

Research is continuing in this area to define more clearly which kinds of stress are more likely to trigger cardiovascular disease.  Whatever the outcome may be, we already know that different types of stress tend to cluster together. When they do, the resultant risk for cardiac events is often substantially elevated.

How stress causes cardiovascular disease
Living a stressful life can cause people to adopt poor habits like smoking and eating badly, which in turn are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

But being stressed itself can alter the way the body behaves and this can bring about changes to the blood and nervous system, which can have negative effects on your heart health.

Studies show that acute stress triggers reduced blood flow to the heart, promotes your heart to beat irregularly and increases the likelihood of your blood clotting.  All of these can trigger the development of cardiovascular disease.

If you already have atherosclerosis and become acutely stressed you may experience chest pains caused by the arteries to your heart contracting and reducing the blood flow.

When experienced over an extended period of time, all these effects can cause damage to the lining of the blood vessels.  This makes the blood vessels more susceptible to atherosclerosis.

Can you protect yourself?
Changing your behavior and your circumstances, where possible, may help you reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.