Election stress is real and can be deadly, cardiologist says

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A recently released study shows cases of heart attacks and strokes nearly doubled after the 2016 presidential election.

And with the current election still not certified and facing potential court challenges--this cycle promises to be stressful once again.

For some that additional stress could be deadly, Dr. Christopher Kelly, a cardiologist at UNC REX hopsital said.

"Although passions are running high, I think there's very few people who are willing to die for their presidential candidate right now. But you may be putting yourself at that risk if you allow your stress level to get really high," Kelly said.

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He's familiar with the study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA on sociopolitical stress.

The analysis showed that after the 2016 presidential election, the number of heart attacks and strokes nearly doubled from the months before the election.

Kelly wasn't surprised. "It's just really important for people to understand how stress and emotions can play into their heart health and trigger an acute event," he said.

Kelly noted that the stress from the 2020 election could last for several more weeks.

"There's a lot of uncertainty and stress remaining on both sides whether you supported Biden or Trump. And that is not likely to go away," he said.

And that means that election stress could collide with holiday stress, starting with family gatherings at Thanksgiving.

"Don't get into it with your family members," Kelly advised. "Just enjoy each other, love each other, focus on the things that you have in common. And let's not make the rest of 2020 about politics more than it already has."

Kelly said smokers and people with diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol are at greater risk for heart disease, especially with an external trigger. "Something that lights the fuse and makes the actual event occur. And that's usually stress."

So the first tip on Dr. Kelly's list is not to worry about things that are out of your control.

"Stick with a schedule, get good sleep, try not to binge drink alcohol around the holidays if that's your kind of thing. And, to the extent that you can just stick with your regular everyday routine and life, it's going to help you to avoid those acute triggers that can cause your health to rapidly decompensate," he said.

And remember no election is worth risking a heart attack or stroke.
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