Don’t stress out! It could break your heart


Stress appears inextricably embedded in contemporary working life and in our psyche. Regardless of what your job is, we almost take it for granted that stress will be part and parcel of your daily routine.

There is no doubt that the physiological effects of stress are detrimental to all aspects of health. Stress elevates levels of cortisol and this has been shown to interfere with memory, reduce immune function, raise blood pressure and adversely affect cholesterol levels. These effects are “slow-burners” which over many years may result in palpably devastating events such as heart attacks and/or strokes.

However, stress can also cause more immediate and dramatic effects on the heart that can be deadly. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy commonly referred to as “broken heart syndrome” results from an acutely stressful event such as news of a bereavement or even watching England lose to Germany on penalties in the World cup! To all intents and purposes, the symptoms are those of a heart attack with acute chest pain. ECG recordings of the heart suggest a heart attack yet when the arteries supplying the heart are checked with a procedure called a coronary angiogram, they appear surprisingly clear.

What happens in this condition is that the heart becomes suddenly weakened or stunned and typically the bottom half stops contracting. This is thought to be due to the sudden surge of adrenaline associated with an acutely stressful event. About 5% of people suffering with this condition will die from it in the initial stages. However, those who survive typically make a full recovery within 6 weeks.

The diagnosis requires a series of repeated tests and cardiac MRI is considered the best way of confirming the diagnosis and for monitoring complete recovery. Stress can cause less dramatic but equally troubling effects on the heart such as heart rhythm disorders. Nearly a sixth of patients seeing GPs will complain of palpitations. This is the result of underlying heart rhythm disorders and most of them will settle with reassurance, simple medications and a reduction in stress!

Lifestyle modification is the key to preventing heart problems. Dr Ravi Assomull and Dr Fakhar Khan from One Heart Clinic at LycaHealth recommend the 5 following tips to keep your heart healthy:

  1. Think about what you eat before you eat it. We tend to put on weight insidiously because we don’t pay attention to our diet or our weight. Cut out sugars, eat lean meats, drink alcohol modestly and weigh yourself once a week.
  2. Some exercise is better than none. It is easy to join a gym and effectively donate money to it by never going. If getting to the gym everyday is unrealistic then integrate exercise into your daily routine eg walk to work, always take the stairs instead of lifts. Another way of getting some exercise is committing an hour a week to a personal trainer in the knowledge that failure to attend will result in a loss of the fee you paid for the session.
  3. Stay well hydrated. Drink 2-3 litres of water a day. Dehydration will make you feel tired and compromise good kidney function. In extreme cases dehydration can result in people losing consciousness!
  4. Sleep between 5 to 8 hours a day. Studies confirm that too much sleep as well as too little are detrimental to your health.
  5. Take the opportunity to take a health screen once you are over 40 or if you have a family history of a particular disease. Catching early signs of a problem and instituting the appropriate treatment will prevent progression to the full blown condition.

Dr Ravi Assomull and Dr Fakhar Khan lead the cutting edge cardiac services at Lyca Health with their unique approach to delivering comprehensive cardiac care under their One Heart Clinic philosophy. As experts in heart disease and rhythm disorders respectively, they are in a unique position that they can treat all patients with potential cardiac problems by working as a collaborative unit. They pride themselves on ensuring each patient is treated individually with their own bespoke treatment plan that very much prioritises the patient’s needs above everything else.

If you have any concerns about your heart health, and would like to see Dr Ravi Assomull or Dr Fakhar Khan at our Canary Wharf clinic, please email us at or call 0207 132 1440, our team would be delighted to help with your query.

Stay up to date

More posts

We are fully accredited


Book appointment