Popular culture acknowledges the medical truth that psychological stress is hard on the heart. A difficult family situation, for example, is called a “heartache.” A new study of nearly a quarter of a million participants assessed the degree to which heartache, called “psychological distress” by researchers, affects the incidence of heart attack, medically known as myocardial infarction or MI, and stroke in people ages 45 and older. For the study, published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, researchers controlled known risk factors, such as smoking, diet, alcohol intake, and chronic conditions in order to isolate the effect of psychological distress.
How does one measure so ephemeral a feeling as psychological distress? In this study, participants were asked to rate themselves using a self-assessment questionnaire whose questions were intended to identify depression and anxiety. The participants were then followed for a period of more than four years. In that time, the group as a whole experienced more than 4,500 MRIs and nearly 2,500 strokes.
Was psychological distress implicated in these heart attacks and strokes? It certainly was. The incidence of stroke and MI was highly correlated with the self-assessed psychological distress.
In men, a “high” or “very high” rating on the questionnaire translated into a 30% increase of MI. In women, high/very high psychological distress was associated with a nearly 20% increased risk of MI.
High/very high levels of psychological distress were associated with a 24% increase in stroke risk for men, and a 44% increase in stroke risk for women.
As a result of these findings, the researchers recommend that screening for symptoms of psychological distress be added to the standard screening list of cardiovascular risk factors.
At Hamilton Grove Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, in Hamilton, NJ, we know that anxiety and depression are bad for the health of our residents. We foster an environment that is cheerful and enthusiastic, so our residents are able to truly relish and appreciate life. Our outstanding Social Services team works hard to ensure that every resident thrives socially, emotionally, and spiritually, and we promote a culture of independence, crucial for emotional, social, and physical health.
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