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Stress is an unavoidable part of life, and it’s no secret that it affects our overall health in various ways. But out of all the body’s main systems, it’s our cardiovascular system that is most affected by it.

Stress can contribute to the development of several cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. But how does stress affect your cardiovascular system? Let’s take a closer look.

Stress Can Lead To High Blood Pressure
When you are under stress, your heart rate quickens, and your body releases a surge of hormones, namely adrenaline and cortisol. While the latter helps your body respond to emergencies, elevated levels of it for prolonged periods increase blood pressure.

When your blood pressure is consistently above normal levels, your arteries get damaged. Damaged arteries get narrow and lose their elasticity, which restricts blood flow. This causes your heart to work harder than it should to pump blood.

Stress Can Cause High Blood Sugar
Stress causes insulin (the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels) to decrease. Because of this, your body produces more glucagon, which increases blood sugar.

Consistently high blood sugar can damage blood vessels. A recent study showed that increased glucose levels could cause the narrowing of blood vessels, which creates resistance in blood flow. This increases the risk of severe conditions such as stroke and heart disease.

Some Stress-Coping Habits Are Unhealthy
To fight stress, experts recommend having enough rest, eating right, and exercising. But all too often, many people turn to unhealthy habits and behaviors to relieve the pressure they feel.

For example, people smoke as temporary relief from stress, and we all know that smoking is harmful to the health. It causes plaque buildup in arteries and blood vessels.

People also consume alcohol to soothe or distract themselves from negative feelings. While its moderate intake has health benefits, excessive consumption can raise blood pressure and fat levels in the blood. These restrict blood flow and give your heart a hard time. Another condition linked to excessive alcohol consumption is cardiomyopathy. This disorder makes the heart muscles stiff, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood.

Another way people cope with stress is by “stress eating.” A recent survey revealed that many adults engage in unhealthy eating habits like overeating and indulging in unhealthy foods to relieve stress. These behaviors lead to high levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

Manage your stress levels to protect your heart. If you feel any signs or symptoms of cardiovascular problems, consult a cardiologist at Sioux Center Health. You can also visit our behavioral health clinic if you need help with stress and anxiety management.