Perception of stress increases heart attack risk

Some scientists are finally beginning to recognize that it is stress (not salt) that causes high blood pressure and heart disease—and contributes to other chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and even some cancers.

A British study previously found that the measurable physiologic changes associated with stress can have an adverse effect on health.

Now they’ve found just the perception of being stressed leads to an increased risk of heart disease.1

This study was comprised of several thousand British civil servants. And while you may correctly consider government and its employees to be the main source of stress in modern life, perhaps they are the subjects of stress as well—at least in britain, where good government may still mean something.

The question was: “To what extent do you consider stress or pressure in your life has an effect on your health.” Multiple choice answers were: “not at all, a little, moderately, a lot, or extremely.”

Those who answered in the highest two categories showed more than double (2.12) the number of fatal heart attacks over the following years.

Of course, the experience of stress can be subjective. And one man’s meat may be another man’s poison, so to speak. For example, for a fighter pilot, just sitting at a desk can be stressful, relatively speaking.

But regardless of what causes it, this study shows that people know when they are stressed. Since determining “stress levels” can be difficult among different people, this study may offer a “new” way to “measure” them:

Perhaps we can just ask the patient.


1. “Increased risk of coronary heart disease among individuals reporting adverse impact of stress on their health: the Whitehall II prospective cohort study,” European Heart Journal 2013; epub ahead of print June 26