Keep track of these 6 surprising heart-attack triggers

  • Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 17, 2015 17:26 IST

Many people believe that losing your temper is a great way of letting off steam and putting a grudge or a troubling situation behind you. Wrong. Anger hurts you far more than the person bearing the brunt of your vitriolic venting.

Anger:A little anger is a normal and healthy emotion, but becomes destructive if it gets disruptive and goes out of control. Even short outbursts can trigger heart attack and stroke, reported a study in the European Heart Journal ( People are more prone to have heart attacks, strokes, and disturbances in heart rhythm within two hours of an anger outburst, found the review of scientific papers published between 1966 and 2013.

Cold weather: Cold weather can stop your heart. The winter cold doubles the risk of heart attacks and stroke in people with high blood pressure, with people over 65 years being at most risk. In the cold, blood vessels constrict to help conserve body heat, which pushes up blood pressure and puts strain on the heart. The cold also activates the sympathetic system - which helps is responsible for the fight or fright syndrome - that increases the secretion of hormones called adrenaline and nor-adrenaline that further increase blood pressure, increase the heart rate and push up the body's oxygen demand.

Mornings:The most common time of day for heart attacks is the morning around the time when a person is waking up from sleep, and these morning attacks are also the most damaging. Heart attacks that occur between 6am and noon are more likely to leave a 20% larger area of dead heart tissue (infarct) than at any other time of the day ( Early treatment with clot-busting drugs and angioplasty can prevent or limit damage to the heart muscle, for which cardiac catheterisation labs should be equipped for emergency procedures in the early morning hours to reduce treatment delays.

Common cold:The common cold is the other trigger. According to the American Heart Association, decongestants raise blood pressure and should not be used by people with high blood pressure. They should opt for a decongestant-free cold medicine, if needed. Complications such as pneumonia and chest congestion associated with the flu can makes it hard for the lungs to absorb oxygen efficiently, making the heart pump harder and putting it at risk of a stress-related breakdown.

Strenuous exercise: While regular physical activity is recommended for managing heart disease and lowering the risk of death from high blood pressure, stroke and type 2 diabetes, too much of it can kill you too. Heart attack survivors who exercise excessively are at increased risk of dying from heart problems, concludes a study of 2,400 physically active heart attack survivors published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The research recommended about 5 hours of vigorous exercise per week to be the safe upper range for long-term heart health, but warned that people should rest one or two days a week.

Broken heart:There are other ways in which emotions can hurt your heart. Strong emotional stress can trigger the Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, popularly referred to as the broken-heart syndrome, which results in the weakening of the heart's left ventricle (main pumping chamber).

The condition, which affects mostly post-menopausal women, is associated with strong emotional or physical stress. Typically, the symptoms begin just minutes to hours after exposure to a severe and unexpected stress, such as grief, fear or anger, or even physical stressors such as stroke, seizure, asthma attack or significant blood loss.

The symptoms are not psychosomatic and are likely to give conscientious cardiologists recurrent nightmares. People have characteristic heart attack symptoms: acute chest pain, shortness of breath, congestive heart failure, low blood pressure, abnormal electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood tests readings that show high levels of heart disease-related enzymes - but tests show normal heart function and blood flow. In a typical heart attack, blocked arteries show up and the heart cells starved of blood die.

While there is no data for broken-heart syndrome in India, the syndrome account for 1-2% of admissions for suspected heart attacks in industrialised nations, reports the British Medical Journal ( In four in five cases, the symptoms disappear without a trace within a couple of weeks, but heart damage persists in the rest. In rare cases, the shock causes severe heart muscle weakness that can lead to congestive heart failure and life-threatening heart rhythm abnormalities.

None of us can avoid life's stressors, but it's easy to remember to stay warm in cold weather and work at moderating our responses to emotional situations. After all, no outburst or trauma is worth permanent heart damage.

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