There is no denying this year has been stressful for almost everyone as we continue to grapple with a global pandemic and major historical events in our country. Heightened stress levels can lead to a myriad of health issues, especially with your heart.
Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease and stress is a big driver of these risk factors. According to the American Psychological Association, Americans are struggling to cope with the disruptions the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. Nearly 8 in 10 adults (78%) say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their life. And, 2 in 3 adults (67%) say they have experienced increased stress over the course of the pandemic.
Heart disease also disproportionately affects the African American community, with those ages 35-64, 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure and twice as likely to die from heart disease than Caucasian individuals.
At MedStar Montgomery Medical Center we have seen first-hand how stress has impacted seemingly healthy adults this year. In July, 62-year-old Mary Kay Abramson, had her husband rush her to our emergency department. Despite leading an active lifestyle and no prior heart conditions or blockages, two separate scans of Mary Kay’s heart were consistent with a heart attack. She was then flown to MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., for further evaluation.
Rated among the top 20 heart centers in the country by U.S. News & World Report, the hospital is home to the MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, the busiest cardiac catheterization center in the U.S. The center performs more than 19,000 catheterizations a year. When doctors performed a cardiac catheterization on Mary Kay, they discovered she wasn’t having a heart attack at all.
They found Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, more commonly referred to as broken heart syndrome. The condition involves rapid and severe cardiac dysfunction caused by intense emotional or physical stress. The condition is not directly due to COVID, but it is stress induced and emergency departments across the U.S. have been seeing a rise in cases like these during the pandemic.
An important lesson Mary Kay learned from the experience is not to delay care, especially if something feels wrong with your heart. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many have been delaying doctor visits and elective procedures, with worry of contracting the virus. Because of this, we urge individuals not to put off screenings and images, life improving elective surgeries, and preventative and maintenance care.
Each of these procedures, while being considered “elective,” are very important in managing your health, early detection of severe illnesses, or improving long term health.
A few common tips I recommend for all patients is to make a few important lifestyle changes that will help to reduce your risk of heart related issues, including:
- Reduce and manage stress levels
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a balanced diet
- Keep up with scheduled doctor appointments and maintenance care
- Limit alcohol intake
- Don’t smoke
- Reduce cholesterol
To learn more about heart disease, wellness tips and to schedule an appointment, visit www.MedStarMontgomery.org.
Dr. Oluseyi Princewill Cardiology Specialist, MedStar Montgomery Medical Center