JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — People with high financial stress are 13 times more likely to suffer a heart attack, while the odds are nearly six times greater for people dealing with work frustrations, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa recruited 212 participants, half of whom had suffered from an acute myocardial infarction, to complete a survey on how depression, anxiety, and various other stressors — including ones of a personal, professional, and financial nature — affected them.

Man stressed out
While stress and depression were found to be closely linked to having a heart attack, money and work problems were substantial risk factors, the researchers found. (Photo by Ben White on Unsplash)

A participant’s level of financial stress, which was the researchers’ main focus, split them into one of four categories.

Those who had no struggles with their finances were deemed as having no financial stress; those who were coping, but needed some additional support had mild financial stress; those who had an income, but were struggling to make ends meet were said to have moderate financial distress; and those who had no income and often struggled to meet basic needs were considered to be in significant financial distress.

While stress and depression were found to be closely linked to having a heart attack, money and work problems were substantial risk factors, the researchers found.

Namely, myocardial infarctions were 5.6 times as common among those who had experienced moderate-to-severe work stress; significant financial stress increased one’s risk of heart attack 13-fold.

“Our study suggests that psychosocial aspects are important risk factors for acute myocardial infarction,” explains Dr. Denishan Govender, the study’s lead author, in a news release. “Often, patients are counseled about stress after a heart attack, but there needs to be more emphasis prior to an event. Few doctors ask about stress, depression, or anxiety during a general physical, and this should become routine practice, like asking about smoking. Just as we provide advice on how to quit smoking, patients need information on how to fight stress.”

The researchers also found that people who suffered depression — whether mild or severe — were three times more likely to suffer a heart attack within a month of the symptoms.

Pravin Manga, one of the study’s other authors, believes that chronic disease as a whole has been ignored in many developing countries, including South Africa, despite its increasing prevalence.

Other researchers emphasized the importance of identifying those who may be at additional risk early on, as such lead time could allow practitioners to sufficiently address “possible barriers to lifestyle change or adherence to medication.”

The researchers presented their findings last week at the 18th Annual Congress of the South African Heart Association in Johannesburg.

About Daniel Steingold

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