Stress And Your Heart Health

Dr. Thomas Wallace
While most people are familiar with heart healthy practices like routine exercise, a good diet and consistent sleep, limiting stress warrants the same level of attention. If left unchecked, a high level of stress can lead to a number of cardiac disorders.

With the responsibilities of work, school, children or relationships, stress can feel almost inevitable to many people. Dr. Thomas Wallace, a cardiologist with the CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute, shares more about the impact of stress on the heart and how to limit its long-term effects.

What is a healthy heart rate for adults?

“A healthy heart rate is about 60-100 beats per minute and we like to see a nice, normal pattern. Younger patients will have a wider range, potentially from 50-120 beats per minute and with exercise, their peak heart rate can even go up to 200 beats per minute. As we get older, that peak heart rate goes down to around 120 or 130 beats per minute.”

How does stress affect heart rate and heart rhythm?

“The brain responds to stress by releasing hormones like epinephrine and norepinephrine. These chemicals are like adrenaline, causing heart rate and blood pressure to go up. A lot of that, especially in a quick amount of time, can lead to atrial fibrillation, heart failure or a heart attack.”

What is atrial fibrillation and how does stress relate to it?

“Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm that comes from the top chamber of the heart. Patients will feel their heart beating fast along with irregularity in the rhythm. Typically, we can trace it back to an underlying cause, which could be stress, lack of sleep, an overactive thyroid or a host of other reasons.”

Are there any warning signs to look out for that a stress level is getting too high?

“One of the easiest signs is the heart rate. If your heart rate is elevated more than normal, that could be a sign. Some of the other most common signs are chest pressure, chest heaviness, shortness of breath and skin flushing.”

What are the most effective ways to manage stress level?

“It’s a simple answer, but it’s so hard to achieve. It starts with having a healthy sleep cycle with seven-to-eight hours a night. In addition to sleep, routine exercise, limiting your intake of caffeine and alcohol, prayer and meditation are all beneficial in helping the body handle stress.”

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in Arkansas. When it comes to measuring cardiac activity, heart rate and heart rhythm are the two most important numbers to know. Heart rate refers to the speed of the heart, while heart rhythm is the cadence or regularity of the beat. Symptoms of an abnormal heart rhythm include irregularities such as early, extra or skipped heartbeats.

The CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute provides access to the state’s largest and most diverse network of heart specialists with services in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Hot Springs, Searcy, Conway and more than 25 community locations. To learn more about the CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute and the wide range of services provided by our team of cardiologists and heart surgeons, visit: