Heart attacks are more likely during presidential elections and other stressful times, study shows

on May20
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Your genes could put you at a higher risk of heart attack during very stressful times.

Research from Massachusetts General Hospital found that people who have specific genetic traits, paired with anxiety or depression, are at a “significantly higher heart attack risk” during periods of social or political stress, such as presidential elections, winter holidays or even the Super Bowl.

The study, presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual scientific session in April, was the first to examine stress sensitivity based on genetics as a driver of acute coronary syndromes (ACS).

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These syndromes include heart attacks and other “serious conditions where the heart is suddenly deprived of blood supply,” a press release noted.

Of 18,428 Mass General Brigham Biobank participants, 1,890 developed ACS between 2000 and 2020. 

2020 election results next to image of a heart attack

People with high stress sensitivity, anxiety or depression are at a “significantly higher heart attack risk” during periods of social or political stress, the study found. (Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images; iStock)

The researchers measured the participants’ stress sensitivity by measuring their neuroticism polygenic risk score (nPRS).

Stressful periods — including five days after presidential elections and 10 days surrounding Christmas Day — made up 3.2% of the observed timeline.

A total of 71 ACS cases took place during stressful periods, compared to 1,819 during control periods.

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People with high genetic stress sensitivity had a 36% higher risk of ACS, the researchers found.

Those with high genetic stress who also developed anxiety or depression had three times the risk.

woman holds her heart in pain

People with above median nPRS, or high genetic stress sensitivity, had a 36% higher risk of ACS, a new study found. (iStock)

“High nPRS, indicating elevated genetic susceptibility to stress, mediates ACS risk during periods of socio-political stress,” the study authors wrote as a conclusion. “A multifaceted approach to [cardiovascular disease] prevention may benefit.”

In an interview with Fox News Digital, lead study author Shady Abohashem, M.D., instructor of cardiovascular imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said that while the numbers are “striking,” the results overall are not surprising, since anxiety and depression alone have been associated with a substantial risk for heart attack regardless of genetics.

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“So, if you have both conditions, you would expect to have a substantial increase in your risk,” he said.

Through scientific analysis, Abohashem and his fellow researchers found that about 25% of ACS cases were due to anxiety and depression.

man depressed looks out the window

About a quarter of ACS developments in this study were due to anxiety and depression, the researcher told Fox News Digital. (iStock)

The impact of genetic susceptibility on heart attack risk could be an important factor for cardiologists and general care physicians to consider, Abohashem said.

He suggested implementing these screenings into cardiovascular risk assessments to help identify those people at most risk.

“The mind-heart connection is strong, and this study highlights that not only our bodies, but also our minds, need rest and care.”

“Based on that identification, we could develop targeted intervention, or maybe preventive strategies, that could help us protect those people from developing heart attacks in the future,” he added.

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The researchers are currently working on a study to discover how lifestyle modifications can benefit people with a high genetic risk for stress.

As 2024 is an election year, Abohashem advised Americans to manage stress through effective outlets like exercise or yoga.

Shady Abohashem, MD, headshot

Shady Abohashem, M.D., instructor of cardiovascular imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was the lead author of the new study and shared insights with Fox News Digital. (ACC (American College of Cardiology))

Dr. Laxmi Mehta, an American Heart Association medical expert and cardiology director at The Ohio State University, commented on the study in a statement sent to Fox News Digital.

“This is an interesting study that further supports the data of the mind-heart connection,” said Mehta, who was not involved in the research. “It highlights the importance of mental health and its impact on overall health, including the heart.”

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Mehta did note that the “retrospective nature” of the study “limits the ability to show a direct causal relationship between mental health conditions” such as depression and anxiety.

The study “reinforces whole-person preventative care,” the cardiologist emphasized.

man has heart problems while hiking

A doctor stressed the importance of a medical focus on the “mind-heart connection.” (iStock)

“The mind-heart connection is strong, and this study highlights that not only our bodies, but also our minds, need rest and care,” she said. 

“The public needs to be aware of the impact social and political stress has on us, that it is OK to take a break from these stressors, and also that it is good to learn more about interventions like yoga, exercise and mindfulness.”

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The expert encouraged doctors to advise their patients on the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Essential 8,” which are key measures to maintaining cardiovascular health.

These eight steps include eating better, being more active, quitting nicotine products, getting healthy sleep, managing weight, controlling cholesterol, managing blood sugar and maintaining healthy blood pressure.

For more Health articles, visit foxnews.com/health.



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