Stress—“The Silent Killer”
“The first symptom I noticed was intense pressure. It began near my breastbone; shot up into my shoulders, neck, and jaws; and surged down again through both of my arms. It was as if an elephant had plopped down on my chest. I could barely catch my breath. I started sweating. I began getting bowel cramps and then overwhelming nausea. . . . Later, as the nurses helped me into a hospital bed, I remember saying with astonishment, ‘I’m having a heart attack.’ I was forty-four years old.”
IN HIS book From Stress to Strength, Dr. Robert S. Eliot thus describes his brush with death more than 20 years ago. Earlier that morning he had attended a conference and had given a lecture—ironically, on the subject of heart attacks. Suddenly, Dr. Eliot, a cardiologist, found himself on what he calls “the wrong side of the sheets in a coronary care unit.” To what does he attribute his unexpected crisis? “On the inside,” says Dr. Eliot, “my own physical reactions to stress were killing me.”a
As Dr. Eliot’s experience illustrates, stress can have life-threatening consequences. Indeed, in the United States, it has been linked to some of the leading causes of death. The effects of stress can accumulate quietly over time and then surface without warning. It is thus for good reason that stress has been called “the silent killer.”
Surprisingly, those with type-A personalities—characterized by impatience, aggressiveness, and competitiveness—are not the only ones who are vulnerable to stress-related catastrophes. Those with seemingly serene personalities may also be at risk, especially if their calmness is merely a fragile facade, like a weak lid sitting atop a pressure cooker. Dr. Eliot feels this to be true in his case. He now warns others: “You could drop dead today—unaware that for years you’ve had a time bomb strapped to your heart.”
But heart attack and sudden death are not the only problems that have been linked to stress, as the following article will show.
a While stress can be one contributing factor, in most cases of heart attack, there is significant compromise of the coronary arteries by atherosclerosis. Therefore, it would be unwise for a person to take heart disease symptoms lightly, perhaps believing that simply reducing stress will cure him. See Awake!, December 8, 1996, pages 3-13.