Heart disease patients may be more vulnerable to mental stress

Heart disease patients may be more vulnerable to mental stress

New research has found that mental stress could have a more negative impact on people with heart disease, compared to the rest of the population.

The study, carried out by King’s College London and St Thomas’ Hospital, and presented at the British Cardiovascular Society (BCS) Conference, looked at observational studies of large populations.

However, they found that this effect wasn't the same in people who had been diagnosed with coronary heart disease (CHD).

Funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), the research looked at 15 people with significant CHD and 11 people without the condition. Each participant had their blood pressure and speed of blood flow measured while they underwent tests designed to trigger mental stress.

The researchers noted an increase in heart rate and blood pressure during periods of mental stress, suggesting that the heart muscle needed more oxygen to cope with the change in state. However, in the people who had heart disease, there was no change and instead more blood struggled to get through the small blood vessels in the heart.

It's estimated that around 2.3 million people are living with CHD in the UK alone, and the findings suggest that they could be more vulnerable to the negative side effects of mental stress.

The team now wants to carry out further research to identify possible treatments to counteract the effect of mental stress, reducing the risk of potentially life-threatening cardiac problems.

Dr Satpal Arri, BHF research fellow at King’s College London and cardiology registrar at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, said the preliminary findings show a clear association between mental stress and effects on the heart that are particularly concerning for people with coronary heart disease.

"Currently there are no specific treatments to counteract these effects, although current angina treatments such as beta-blockers, that reduce the body’s stress response, may offer protection. Specific treatments for mental stress could come from this research in the future," he added.

Dr Arri, who also led the study, said the short-term conclusions of the findings is that it's important that doctors are aware of the risk that mental stress can pose on people with coronary heart disease. This will allow them to advise and treat patients accordingly to minimise the danger.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the BHF, said the study emphasises that people with CHD should do what they can to minimise their stress levels, especially during the upcoming Euro 2016 and Olympics.

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