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Perception of Stress on Health Tied to Heart Attack Risk

Update Date: Jun 26, 2013 07:03 PM EDT

If you think your stress is harming your health, a new study reveals you're probably right.

New research reveals people who think their stress is affecting their health are more likely to suffer heart attacks.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal, involved 7,268 London-based civil servants. After following study participants for several years, researchers found that people who believe stress is affecting their health "a lot or extremely" had double the risk of a heart attack compared to people who didn't believe stress was having a significant effect on their health.

Even after accounting for biological, behavioral or psychological risk factors, researchers found that these people still had a 50 percent greater risk of suffering or dying from a heart attack.

While numerous studies have shown that stress can have a negative effect on people's health, the latest study is the first to show how people's perceptions of how stress is affecting their health can increase their risk of heart disease.

"This current analysis allows us to take account of individual differences in response to stress," Dr. Hermann Nabi, the first author of the study, who is a senior research associate at the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at Inserm (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale), Villejuif, France, said in a news release.

"We found that the association we observed between an individual's perception of the impact of stress on their health and their risk of a heart attack was independent of biological factors, unhealthy behaviours and other psychological factors," he explained.

"One of the important messages from our findings is that people's perceptions about the impact of stress on their health are likely to be correct," Nabi added.

Researchers said future studies on stress should include people's perceptions of its impact on their health. They also recommend doctors to consider patients' subjective perceptions and take them into account when managing stress-related health complaints.

"Our findings show that responses to stress or abilities to cope with stress differ greatly between individuals, depending on the resources available to them, such as social support, social activities and previous experiences of stress," Nabi said.

"Although, stress, anxiety, and worry are thought to have increased in recent years, we found only participants (8%) who reported stress to have affected their health 'a lot or extremely' had an increased risk of CHD," he concluded.

"In the future, randomized controlled trials are needed to determine whether disease risk can be reduced by increasing clinical attention to those who complain that stress greatly affects their health," he added.

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