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Predicting Heart Attacks

Written by Rita Kennen

Advice on predicting heart problems that could lead to successful prevention. Call it mental stress testing, but its results closely parallel treadmill tests, too.

 


Call it mental stress testing, but it's a companion predictor of risk for patients whose heart problems aren't detected during the traditional treadmill tests done by cardiologists. Researchers have found that mental stress tests delivers results closely parallel to the performance of people who test positive on exercise stress tests.

 

 
Be Happier with Age
Coronary artery disease affects 13.5 million Americans each year.
Managing stress can reduce the risk for heart attack.
Traditional treadmill tests and electrocardiograms (ECG) sometimes miss people with heart problems.  
 
Both groups, they say, are three times as susceptible to serious cardiac trauma as those who don't test positive. Here's how that research was conducted:

 

Researchers at Duke University asked 136 people with coronary artery disease to perform mental gymnastics. The test involved:

 

Mental arithmetic

 

Public speaking

 

Drawing a star on a mirror

 

Sixty-seven percent of patients had heart abnormalities during the mental stress testing. Approximately the same amount, 68 percent,showed abnormalities when physical exercise was the monitor of testing.

 

Scientists at Duke describe one of the dangerous physiological responses to mental stress as ischemia, a condition characterized by reduced blood flow to the heart and caused by a squeezing-down on blood vessels. This physiological response is particularly damaging for people suffering from ischemia .

 

A Safety Net

 

The research shows that mental stress tests are an important follow-up to traditional exercise tests for people with heart disease. It also indicates how important it is for physicians to emphasize stress management to their patients. Prescribing medication may not be enough.

 

For patients, having an insight into how stress damages your heart will hopefully help physicians develop treatments to prevent further damage. The impact is significant for the 13.5 million Americans already affected by coronary artery disease. However, in healthy people, mental stress testing cannot predict your future risk for heart problems.