Financial stress impacts health: New study finds having no income increases heart attack risk
08/21/2018 // Rhonda Johansson // Views

Experts from the European Society of Cardiology warn that constant and excessive stress about one’s financial status is linked to a 13-fold increased risk of having a heart attack. These findings, while of themselves not shocking, do imply an increased need for doctors to ask about other lifestyle factors when reviewing their patients’ profiles.

As explained by lead author Dr. Denishan Govender, “Few doctors ask about stress, depression, or anxiety during a general physical and this should become routine practice, like asking about smoking. Just as we provide advice on how to quit smoking, patients need information on how to fight stress.”

These recommendations come from the recently concluded INTERHEART study which cross-analyzed various psycho-social factors and their potential effect on heart attack risk. One hundred and six patients from South Africa were pooled and observed. All participants had no history of cardiac disease and were matched for age, sex, and race. They were also asked to complete a questionnaire about depression, stress, work stress, financial stress, and anxiety, scoring in a Likert scale.

Financial stress was distributed in four assumptions:

  • No financial stress (able to cope financially);
  • Mild financial stress (able to cope financially but needed added support);
  • Moderate financial stress (had a means of income but were not able to cope financially); and
  • Significant financial stress (had no means of income and were unable to cope financially).

Results were as follows:


  • Depressed people (regardless of severity) were three times more likely to experience a heart attack in the previous month compared to those who said they weren’t depressed.
  • Those who were moderately to severely stressed at work had an almost six-fold increased risk of a heart attack.
  • Patients who reported being significantly stressed about their financial status were 13 times more likely to have a heart attack.

“Our study suggests that psychosocial aspects are import risk factors for acute myocardial infarction (heart attack). Often patients are counseled about stress after a heart attack but there needs to be more emphasis prior to an event,” concluded Dr. Govender. (Related: Debt and financial stress can shorten your life.)

Focusing on the green makes your heart unclean

Stress is a normal event. It is our body’s natural reaction to various situations and is necessary for survival. Nevertheless, too much stress (particularly those of the negative kind) places too much burden on your heart. It becomes a chain of events, with stress impairing heart function and weakening the immune system. These, in turn, affect other organs until you begin to experience various acute symptoms such as sleep disturbances, migraines, ulcers, and yes, heart attacks.

Cardiologists still argue whether stress directly increases the risk of heart disease or whether it merely exacerbates other conditions such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure which cause heart attacks. Regardless, stress is highly associated with a weak heart. Stress drives the overproduction of adrenaline and cortisol, hormones which can damage organs if constantly produced. Stress likewise alters the way blood clots, which increases the chances of developing a cardiac condition.

According to a 2012 study by the American Psychological Association (APA), financial stress is the number one source of stress for most adult Americans (69 percent). This was followed by work stress (65 percent), the economy (61 percent), family obligations (57 percent), relationships (56 percent), health problems within the family (52 percent), and personal health issues (51 percent).

For more stories related to heart health and the ways to improve it, visit today.

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