Which Types of Stress Can Lead to a Heart Attack?
Insights with Dr Ross Walker (Cardiologist)
In Australia one person dies from cardiovascular disease every twelve minutes and approximately seventeen million deaths globally, every year.

Heart disease remains the number once cause of death worldwide, with a death toll far greater than those dying from COVID-19. Perhaps it's worthy to note it may have been of more benefit stocking up on fresh, natural food and exercise equipment rather than the stockpiling of toilet paper which took place at the beginning of the pandemic.

So how do we lower our chances of cardiovascular disease, in a world where it's so prominent?

Dr Ross Walker shares his insights below...

What causes heart issues in individuals - is it all genetics?
What puts plaque in arteries in the first place is pure genetics.
You might have, for example:
  • Insulin resistance
  • High lipoprotein
  • Familial hypercholesterolemia
  • A rare genetic conditions that puts fat in the wall of your arteries
However, genetics alone is not what causes plaque to become unstable or a sudden rupture from stable to unstable, causing a possible life-threatening cardiovascular event.
So, what makes stable plaque unstable or rupture?
Dr Walker says plaque becomes unstable or ruptures due to a stressor.
The 5 stressors which impact on your heart health are:  
1. Emotional stress
Almost everyone has this or can relate to having this at some point in their lives. Emotional stress is not limited to its impact on mental health, it also impacts your physical health. 
2. Work stress
Many of us, if not all, experience stress when it comes to the workplace.

A 20 year long study, known as the Whitehall study followed 17,000 British civil servants over this period and found the majority who had heart disease, also experience significant job strain, defined as high demand, low control. Therefore, the middle managers were more likely to have heart disease than those at the top.

Management of work and mental stress is incredibly important when it comes to heart health.

3. Physical stress
When discussing physical stress, this doesn't relate to the physical stress of exertion, such as consistent physical exercise. Dr Walker notes, 'exercise is the second based drug on the planet'.
However, it can relate to an unfit person who doesn't normally exercise and then exerts them self too much. Many individuals put themselves into extreme situations which does not benefit the heart . For example, the huge number of people who climb Mount Everest without the proper training.

It's not just the climb. It's the freezing cold temperatures and the low oxygen which could cause unstable or ruptured plaque. Even the stress of having an operation, the stress of chronic pain or the physical stress of dehydration can bring on a vascular event.

4. Pharmacologic stress
There are 2 types of pharmacological stress: legal an illegal. With legal substances, it must be noted, dose is also important to consider.

For example, it's okay to have a couple of cups of coffee every day, but it's not okay to have six. People who have six cups of coffee every day, have a 20 percent higher risk for heart disease.

You might be a civilized human being that has one or two glasses of wine per day. If you go out one night and have seven or eight - this may be enough to make your plaques unstable.

The legal type, such as recreational drugs are not harmless, and can be a real problem when it comes to heart health. Dr Walker had a patient in his 30s with a very strong family history of heart disease who went out one night on a bucks night and had a few lines of coke... and had a major heart attack.

Marijuana is also an interesting discussion point. Dr Walker is on the board of a company called NGC Pharmaceuticals who is developing medical cannabis around the world. There are legitimate benefits when used in the right way. However, if you smoke one joint you increase your heart attack risk five times. If you're a regular marijuana smoker, double the risk for heart disease.

Any legal or illegal stimulant can bring on heart disease.

5. Infective stress

We're living in the time of COVID. But it's not just COVID. It's also influenza.

Dr Walker noted recently on his radio show that in 2019, we had eight hundred and thirteen deaths from influenza in the Australian winter season. So far in 2021, we've had around 250 deaths from COVID.

And only 35 deaths from influenza due to social distancing and increased hand washing, which has led a reduction of big influenza events.

But it is important to note, any infective stress can inflame fatty plaques, making hem unstable and making them rupture.

Key Messages...
It is important to remember, genes are not a death sentence, yes your genes load the gun. But it is your lifestyle which pulls the trigger.
The 5 stressors to work on limiting, in effort to reduce your cardiovascular risk include: emotional stress, work stress, physical, stress, pharmacological stress and infective stress. 
We hope you enjoy the practical and knowledgeable information we have available within the unstress membership, to support you in understanding and minimising stressors - and live a life less stressed! 
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