Always Stressed: Cardiac Arrest No Longer Peaks on Monday Morning

New study changes how experts view cardiac arrest risk.

Monday morning used to be notorious as a time when more people died from sudden cardiac arrest. 

For decades, health experts believed that weekday mornings — especially Mondays — were prime time for unexpected deaths and sudden cardiac arrests.

The reason, they predicted, was due to the sudden surge of cortisol — known as the stress hormone — we experience upon waking up. All that cortisol drives up our blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels, and, consequently, would send early risers off to the emergency room.

However, those peak hours may now be a thing of the past.

Thanks to the modern pressures of living and working in a fast-paced world, sudden cardiac arrests are now more likely to occur at any time any day of the week, according to a recent study published in Heart Rhythm.

Monday mornings are no longer in the danger zone

In order to identify the current peak times for sudden cardiac arrest, researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles studied data from The Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study, a 16-hospital, multi-year assessment of cardiac deaths in Portland, Oregon.

All cases that the team evaluated were collected from emergency medical reports between 2002 and 2014.

The investigators found that of the 1,535 adults who died from sudden cardiac arrest, just 13.9 percent died between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. Furthermore, there was no evidence that sudden cardiac arrests were more likely to occur on Mondays.

Sudden cardiac arrests aren’t the same as heart attacks

Though they’re often used interchangeably, sudden cardiac arrests and heart attacks are very different conditions.

Heart attacks occur when coronary arteries are clogged and blood can’t get to the heart, which can cause the muscle to die from lack of oxygen. When severe, heart attacks can cause the heart to beat erratically and lead to sudden cardiac arrest.

Sudden cardiac arrests, on the other hand, involve electrical issues of the heart and take place when the heart’s rhythm slows down and stops beating. This often causes a loss of consciousness or death.

“In [a] large percentage of patients, the cause of sudden cardiac arrest is not known,” Dr. Shephal Doshi, a cardiac electrophysiologist and director of cardiac electrophysiology and pacing at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, said.

These patients often have issues with their heart including how it’s pumping, Doshi noted, adding that certain hereditary genetic diseases can also contribute to sudden cardiac arrest in family members.

“Heart attacks typically cause symptoms such as chest tightness or chest pain while sudden cardiac arrest causes people to have sudden loss of consciousness and most often death,” Doshi said.

Sudden cardiac arrests take the lives of nearly 300,000 people in the U.S. annually, making it one of the leading causes of death each year.

Experts note that because sudden cardiac arrest is so dangerous, more research is needed to understand its causes so doctors can intervene and help prevent it before it strikes.

People are more stressed out than ever

While there may be many factors contributing to this shift in sudden cardiac arrests, the research team believes that stress may have a lot to do with it.

“We now live in a fast-paced, ‘always on’ era that causes increased psycho-social stress and possibly, an increase in the likelihood of sudden cardiac arrest,” the study’s lead investigator Dr. Sumeet Chugh, a professor of medicine and medical director of the Heart Rhythm Center, Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai, said in a statement.

These new, modern stressors — such as constant smartphone notifications and late-night pings from your boss — could very well be killing us.

“Stress causes an increase in blood pressure, inflammation, and even cholesterol levels — all of which increases the likelihood of a heart attack, and, subsequently, sudden cardiac arrest,” Dr. Michael Ghalchi, a cardiologist with Manhattan Cardiovascular Associates, told Healthline.

Additionally, stress can also lead to depression and anxiety, which may increase your chances of a sudden cardiac arrest, Ghalchi said.

How can you keep your heart healthy and strong?

For one, put down your smartphone. All those apps and persistent notifications aren’t doing us any good. Do yourself (and your heart) a favor, and try to slow down and disconnect.

It’s also worth looking into your eating habits. Ghalchi recommends eating a well-balanced diet of unprocessed foods with the majority of calories coming from heart-healthy proteins and fat — think fish, vegetables, legumes, and nuts — along with complex carbohydrates.

Regular exercise and healthy sleep habits are crucial for overall heart health. Additionally, meditation and other mind-body connecting exercises, such as yoga, can work wonders on the heart, some experts believe.

“Meditation has been shown to reduce stress levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and a host of other cardiac risk factors — and can go a long way in reducing one’s risk of a cardiovascular event,” Ghalchi said.

While more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between stress and sudden cardiac arrest, we do know severe stress can trigger unhealthy habits — such as smoking, drinking, and overeating — that contribute to cardiovascular damage.

In the meantime, though, it seems we could all stand to silence our notifications every now and again.

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