Stress is a danger to your heart and overall health

Paula Wolfson,

WASHINGTON – Washington is a hotbed of stress, but could it be making people sick?

Doctors say stress can definitely have an impact on overall health.

Cardiologist Dr. Warren Levy, president and chief medical officer of the medical practice Virginia Heart, says the physiological response to stress can affect the body in many ways.

“Stress clearly is related to increased heart disease, both heart attacks and strokes across various populations,” says Levy.

The culprit is blood pressure according to Levy. Stress can result in elevated blood pressure and that’s a big risk factor for heart trouble.

He also points out that the risk posed by stress is gender-neutral.

“Women are subjected to the increased risk of cardiovascular disease just as men are in terms of external stress,” he says.

There have been a number of studies documenting the link, including one survey of 22,086 women that found those in high-stress jobs were 67 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those with calmer careers.

Another problem is that stress causes the body to secrete certain substances that affect not just blood pressure levels, but also the immune system. And while stress can’t cause a cold, viruses are to blame for those, it can reduce the ability to fight infection.

Clinical psychologist Gregory Jones says he sees a lot of patients coping with stress, and many of them have health problems because of it.

“There is a huge amount of physical impact anxiety and stress has on the body,” he says.

Jones, who is with District Psychotherapy Associates in D.C., says people who are stressed out tend to sleep and eat poorly. He also says they are less likely to exercise and more apt to smoke.

“Oftentimes, they are really working hard, stressed all the time. They don’t get to calm down. So when that happens, the body is depleted. We can get sick.”

People may not realize that other medical problems are related to stress, including gastrointestinal problems and asthma, WebMD reports. MedicineNet offers advice to recognize and cope with stress.

Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Advertiser Content