Mental stress could be more dangerous to a person’s heart than physical exercise, according to a study published Tuesday.
The study in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. found that mental stress can increase the heart’s demand for oxygen while reducing the oxygen supply.
"[Cardiac] patients who displayed mental stress-induced ischemia [reduced blood supply to the heart] had almost three times the risk ratio of a cardiac event or of dying compared with patients who did not exhibit mental stress-induced ischemia,” wrote Wei Jiang of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
This oxygen reduction was noteworthy because reduced blood supply to the heart associated with mental stress occurs at lower heart rates than during exercise. The researchers recommended that stress testing of cardiac patients should also examine their ability to handle stress, and doctors might prescribe stress management techniques.
In the study, 126 patients with cardiac artery disease were tested physically on a stationary bicycle after being given a battery of mental stress tests that included asking them to make rapid mathematical calculations and speak to an audience. Over the five-year study period, 28 of the patients suffered at least one cardiac event, two died of heart attacks and four survived attacks.