Psychological stress is an unavoidable part of life, and the ways in which it might affect heart health are complicated. But growing evidence suggests that stress-related disorders— psychiatric conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—can precipitate heart attacks or other cardiovascular conditions in vulnerable people.
One large study, published in The BMJ in 2019, included more than 1.6 million Swedish adults whose health was tracked over 27 years. Researchers examined the potential heart-health effects of PTSD, as well as some lesser-known stress disorders.
Overall, the study found that people with any of these stress disorders showed an elevated risk of a cardiovascular problem—including coronary heart disease, stroke, or heart failure— within a year of diagnosis. They experienced those complications at a rate of roughly 8 per 1,000—nearly twice the rate seen among their siblings who did not have stress disorders or cardiovascular disease. Even when the researchers weighed other factors, including physical health and marital status, people with stress disorders still had a higher risk of cardiovascular conditions than their siblings.
The findings do not prove that treating stress disorders will eliminate any heart risks. Still, it’s important to address them. And if you do have a stress-related condition, it’s critical to maintain healthy lifestyle habits and continue taking any prescribed cardiovascular medications.