Ongoing stress, whether it's from a traffic-choked daily commute, unhappy marriage, or overbearing boss, has been linked to a wide range of harmful health effects. But can stress cause heart disease? The December 2013 issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch looks into the connection.
There's no question that stress can exert real health effects throughout the body—including the heart. People who've received traumatic news, like the death of a child, have, in rare cases, suffered immediate heart attacks. The condition is called "broken heart syndrome." It's much more common in women than men, even in those with no history of heart disease, says Dr. Deepak Bhatt, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Integrated Interventional Cardiovascular Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
But what about everyday stresses, like rush-hour traffic, marriage strains, and on-the-job aggravation? The connection between these chronic forms of stress and heart disease isn't as well defined. "I think the conventional opinion is that stress is bad for your heart, but the data are much murkier," Dr. Bhatt says.
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