Extra holiday stress could be rough on a woman’s heart
Many women put a lot pressure on themselves to make the holidays perfect for everyone. Everything from cooking to buying presents to organizing family gatherings can add a lot of unnecessary stress that can damage their hearts.
“We have seen more than a few cases of stress-induced cardiomyopathy around the holidays,” said Dr. Karla Kurrelmeyer, a cardiologist with Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center. “This occurs when women are under great amounts of stress for a short period of time and that stress is compounded with another traumatic event such as a death in the family, a car accident, loss of money, etc. If it is ignored it can be fatal.”
Stress-induced cardiomyopathy is a weakening of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber. It is brought on by the release of stress hormones that shock the heart, causing changes in the heart muscles that then cause the left ventricle to not work properly. The vast majority of people who are affected by this condition are women in the late 50s to mid-70s.
“Someone experiencing this condition might develop chest pains or shortness of breath after severe stress, either emotional or physical,” Kurrelmeyer said. “In most cases, it is treated with medication such as beta blockers or ACE inhibitors. It’s important to have an echocardiogram as soon as possible if you are experiencing any symptoms.”
A spike in blood pressure is also seen a lot around the holidays. Kurrelmeyer says many women end up in the ER with chest pains or palpitations and, in the most severe cases, can suffer a stroke. If a woman has a history of high blood pressure it’s important to monitor it closely, especially during those times when the stress level rises.
Heart problems in women are not usually as recognizable as they are in men. Some of the symptoms for women include:
• Extreme weakness, anxiety, or shortness of breath.
• Discomfort, pressure, heaviness or pain in the chest, arm, below the breastbone or in the middle of the back.
• Sweating, nausea, vomiting, dizziness.
• Fullness, indigestion, a tightness in the throat area.
• Rapid or irregular heartbeats.
“It’s important to take time for yourself during the holiday season and do things that will help relieve your stress,” Kurrelmeyer said. “Exercise, either walking or running, yoga, meditation, a nice walk with a loved one, whatever it takes, make it happen. The holidays should be a joyous time spent with family and friends at home, not with doctors in an emergency room.”