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This Increases Your Risk of Heart Attack Dramatically, Study Says

If you have this symptom lately, you're not alone.

Chances are, you know to avoid the most common risk factors for a heart attack: obesity, poor diet, and a sedentary lifestyle. But a new study has found there's another common forewarning of the catastrophic heart event. Men who experience "vital exhaustion" are more likely to have a heart attack, said researchers at a conference of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) last month. The risk is especially pronounced in single men of all types—never married, divorced and widowed. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.

What is "vital exhaustion"?

It's "excessive fatigue, feelings of demoralization and increased irritability," said study author Dr. Dmitriy Panov of the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia. "It is thought to be a response to intractable problems in people's lives, particularly when they are unable to adapt to prolonged exposure to psychological stressors."

For the study, 657 men aged 25 to 64 were enrolled in 1994 and followed for 14 years. The researchers found that men with moderate or high levels of vital exhaustion had a 2.7-fold greater risk of a heart attack within five years, a 2.25 higher risk within 10 years, and a 2.1 raised risk within 14 years, compared to men without vital exhaustion.

The scientists adjusted for social factors—namely, education, occupation, marital status and age—and found that the effect of vital exhaustion declined but was still statistically significant. In this analysis, men with moderate or high levels of vital exhaustion were 16% more likely to have a heart attack over 14 years than those without. That risk was higher in never married, divorced, and widowed men.

"Living alone indicates less social support, which we know from our prior studies is an independent risk factor for myocardial infarction and stroke," said Panov.

"Efforts to improve well-being and reduce stress at home and at work can help reduce vital exhaustion," he added. "Involvement in community groups is one way to increase social support and become less vulnerable to stress. Together with a healthy lifestyle, these measures should be beneficial for heart health."

RELATED: Sure Signs You May Have Dementia, According to the CDC

Isolation a heart risk, other studies say

The study comes at a time when health experts are taking a closer look at the health benefits of interpersonal connections and socializing, spurred by the past year's social isolation guidelines necessitated by the COVID pandemic. Previous studies have found that among older adults, social isolation and feelings of loneliness increase the risk of dying from any cause, a risk similar to that of smoking, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle. One study found that poor social relationships in older people was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Experts say emotional despondency could increase stress, which can weaken the heart. Talk to your doctor if you feel you may be at risk, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael