Chronic Stress and the Heart | Cardiology | JAMA | JAMA Network
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JAMA Patient Page
October 10, 2007

Chronic Stress and the Heart

JAMA. 2007;298(14):1722. doi:10.1001/jama.298.14.1722

Emotional and physical stresses have a negative impact on the heart and the vascular system. Acute stress happens all at once; chronic stress occurs over a longer time period. Stress hormones (catecholamines, including epinephrine, which is also known as adrenaline) have damaging effects if the heart is exposed to elevated catecholamine levels for a long time. Stress can cause increased oxygen demand on the body, spasm of the coronary (heart) blood vessels, and electrical instability in the heart's conduction system.

Chronic stress has been shown to increase the heart rate and blood pressure, making the heart work harder to produce the blood flow needed for bodily functions. Long-term elevations in blood pressure, also seen with essential hypertension (high blood pressure not related to stress), are harmful and can lead to myocardial infarction (heart attack), heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, and stroke.

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