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How Stress Harms the Heart (Health)

posted by bibleprobe1(R), 10.19.2008

How Stress Harms the Heart

Studies show that chronic stress contributes to heart attacks and other disease, and researchers think it's time to make stress reduction a medical priority

By KRISTA MAHR

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 09, 2007
Researchers have long suspected that stress does the body harm, but bulletproof clinical evidence linking stress to heart attacks and other disease has been elusive partly because stress is such a personal and variable thing. Only recently have such studies started to gather critical mass, and researchers have begun calling on clinicians to include the diagnosis and treatment of stress in the routine care for patients with conditions like AIDS and heart disease. "Every layman knows that stress is a cause of heart disease," says Dr. Kristina Orth-Gomer, who has been studying stress and cardiology for 25 years, and now works at Stockholm's Karolinksa Institute. But she feels that physicians have been slow to put that knowledge into practice. "Lately, that is beginning to change. The evidence is more convincing now," she says.

Two studies published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and the Archives of Internal Medicine lend support to her cause. The JAMA study, led by researchers at the Universit Laval in Quebec, finds that first-time heart attack patients who returned to chronically stressful jobs were twice as likely to have a second attack as patients whose occupations were relatively stress-free. The study tracked 972 first-time heart attack survivors, aged 35-59, all of whom went back to work within 18 months of their heart attack for at least 10 hours a week. In periodic follow-up interviews between 1996 and 2005, those patients who reported chronic job strain defined as a job that was high in psychological demands but low in feelings of control were not only at higher risk for a second heart attack, but also had a markedly higher risk of death than their less-stressed peers. Studies like this may strengthen the link between stress and disease, says Orth-Gomer, whose editorial accompanies the Canadian study in the October 10 issue of the journal, but, she says, it's only a beginning: "The other argument is, of course, what do you do about it?"

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