Can Strong Emotions Cause Heart Disease?

The effects of worry, elation, and love on the heart are temporary or minimal. But strong negative emotions, such as depression, anger, and fear, are strongly linked to heart disease. Exhaustion can also impact the heart, but for different reasons. 

Broken heart syndrome," also called takotsubo cardiomyopathy (named after the Japanese physician who identified it), occurs in response to sudden emotional stress—particularly grief—and is more common in women than in men. It can imitate a heart attack and produce sudden heart failure.

But while a heart attack is often caused by a blood clot in the arteries, broken heart syndrome is most likely caused by hormonal factors and an artery that spasms. When the spasm relaxes and blood flow resumes, the heart failure usually resolves. Here is a closer look at the negative emotions that impact heart health:

Depression

Depressed couple
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People with depression have an increased likelihood of developing heart disease and vice versa—if you have heart disease, you are at risk of becoming depressed. The link is strong enough that anyone with depression should be screened for heart disease and heart patients should be evaluated for depression. Treating one disease can reduce the risk of the other. Patients with heart disease may find that participating in cardiac rehabilitation helps their emotional well-being and prevents depression. Likewise, depressed patients who exercise may lower their likelihood of heart attack and feel more optimistic in the process.

Anger & Fear

Negative emotions cause blood pressure to rise, increase vascular reactivity, and raise the likelihood of blood clots. That’s why such stressors can cause a heart attack in people who are vulnerable. On the flip side, positive emotions can help people with heart disease live longer. People with strong social networks and close emotional ties to others have less heart disease and tend to fare better if they do develop heart disease. 

Physical Exhaustion

The heart is miraculous. Even when we are physically exhausted, it keeps on pumping. But the type of exhaustion that arises from shift work is an exception. Shift workers, who experience interrupted day-night cycles due to changing work hours, are prone to developing risk factors for heart disease. The increased risk comes not from a direct impact on the heart and vascular system, however, but through developing bad habits. Shift workers tend to develop poor eating habits, like skipping meals and snacking on sugary foods to stay awake, and many get little exercise. These lifestyle issues increase the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, poor blood sugar, impacted blood lipid levels, and heart disease.

Dr. Gillinov is a surgeon at Cleveland Clinic's Heart and Vascular Institute, the nation's No. 1 cardiology and heart surgery program as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. He chairs the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.

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