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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Can prolonged stress increase my risk of having a heart attack?

    I'm working a very stressful job, and I've started to worry that this may bring on a heart attack. I'm 52 years old. Could this be a possibility?
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    Prof David Colquhoun

    Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

    Associate Professor David Colquhoun is a cardiologist who has been in private practice in Queensland for more than 30 years. He has been involved in ... View Profile

    Yes. I'm chairman of the National Heart Foundation of Australia's Stress and Psychosocial Working Group so this is a particular area of interest of mine. In short, the psychological risk factors increasing risk of heart attack are depression and social isolation. Work stress, per se, poorly correlates with risk of heart attack. If it happens to precipitate depression, that is an independent predictor of first and recurring heart attacks. No question about that. Not only does depression make you feel miserable, it increases your risk of heart attack. If you've already had a heart attack, it increases risk of further heart attacks.

    In addition, if people are depressed they don't tend to take their medications. A very interesting study which involved 52 countries around the world (the INTERHEART Study) demonstrated that if people perceive stress, be it at work, at home, or financial, that does increase your risk of having a heart attack. But many people report feeling stressed at work on surveys and these surveys have a very poor relationship directly with heart disease.

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    Assoc. Prof. John Amerena

    Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

    Assoc. Prof. John Amerena trained in Melbourne before spending four years in the United States at the University of Michigan. Over that period of time ... View Profile

    Prolonged stress can increase the risk of a heart attack in respect that it can trigger a heart attack, but it doesn't actuallycause the blockages to develop. Stress can cause a rupture of the lining of the artery of the heart, which can then form a blood clot, and that can subsequently cause a heart attack.

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