We may think of coronary heart disease (CHD) as being primarily linked to smoking. But other factors that can increase the risk of CHD include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stressful life events. In fact, a large body of research has been devoted to the effects of various types of stress, such as divorce, caregiver issues, and death. Additional research has focused on examining how long-term stress from conditions such as marital difficulty, chronic illness, or work can impact physical health. But until now, few studies have examined how perceived stress affects risk for CHD.
Safiya Richardson of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University Medical Center in New York wanted to find out if perceived stress was as potentially harmful to the heart as experienced stress. To explore this association, Richardson conducted a meta-analysis of existing research and found only six studies that met specific inclusion criteria and were long-term in nature. The studies comprised data from over 118,000 participants and contained information gathered for an average of ten years. This gave Richardson the opportunity to examine the long-term effects of perceived stress compared to other known CHD risk factors.
The results revealed that people who had perceived stress for long periods of time were 27% more likely to develop CHD than those who did not report perceptions of stress. This increase is equal to smoking an average of five more cigarettes a day or having statistically significant increases in cholesterol or blood pressure. Richardson believes these findings are important because they demonstrate that it is not only stress that can negatively affect an individual, but the perception of stress. “In conclusion, this meta-analysis suggests that high perceived stress is associated with a moderately increased risk of incident CHD,” said Richardson. Clinicians working with individuals under stress should be aware of how this type of perception can put them at risk for adverse health outcomes.
Richardson, Safiya, et al. (2013). Meta-analysis of perceived stress and its association with incident coronary heart disease. The American Journal of Cardiology 110.12 (2012): 1711-6. ProQuest. Web.
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