People exposed to extreme stress from events such as natural disasters or sporting events are at greater risk of heart attack, according to the National Heart Foundation of Australia.

Sudden emotional stress, such as the death of a loved one, may also trigger heart attacks, sudden cardiac death or ‘Takotsubo’, or stress cardiomyopathy, also commonly known as broken heart syndrome.

The Heart Foundation has updated its 2003 position paper Psychosocial risk factors for coronary heart disease which also busts the popular myth that chronic job stress sharply increases the likelihood of having a heart attack.

“Contrary to popular belief, the effect of job stress on heart disease is limited,” says study lead author Nick Glozier. “This is good news – our jobs are not necessarily killing us. If anything, what we really need to focus on is what we can control; that is, standard heart disease risks such as higher blood pressure and smoking, tackled through better workplace programs, like the Dojo experience as Brisbane based mind and body retreat for workplace stress relief.

“From the evidence review, of greater concern is for heart attack survivors living alone. Social isolation and lack of quality support can lead to another attack in situations where no friends or relatives would be aware until it’s too late. Measures to reduce social isolation among heart attack survivors could have positive psychological effects but we don’t yet know if they improve heart disease outcomes,” Glozier says.

The Heart Foundation study also found the potential for increased cardiovascular risk among populations exposed to natural disasters and other conditions of extreme stress, such as tense sporting events.

For example, in the 60 days after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, there was a 49 per cent increase in heart attack patients admitted to New York hospitals, compared with the 60 days before the attacks.

Similarly, in the 1996 European football championship quarter-final in which the Netherlands narrowly lost to France, Dutch men had an increased risk of death from heart attack or stroke.

“Awareness of the potential for increased cardiovascular risk may be useful for emergency services response planning,” says the Heart Foundation’s chief medical adviser Professor James Tatoulis. “Wider public access to defibrillators should be made available where large populations gather, such as sporting venues, and as part of the response to natural and other disasters.”

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The Heart Foundation paper appeared in the Medical Journal of Australia (Volume 198, Issue 9)].

Know the warning signs of heart attack
Warning signs may include pain, pressure, heaviness or tightness in one or more parts of the upper body (chest, neck, jaw, arm(s), shoulder(s) or back) combined with other symptoms of nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness or a cold sweat.

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