Heart attacks are responsible for a huge number of deaths every year. For many people, heart attacks can strike without warning and be fatal. It can be hard to tell if you are at risk for a heart attack, and nearly impossible to predict. However, it has recently been discovered that it may be possible to predict a heart attack months before one occurs, by simply testing a sample of your hair for the stress hormone cortisol.
A heart attack or myocardial infarction occurs when heart muscles are suddenly deprived of oxygen-rich blood. This can occur for a few reasons, however, it most often happens as a result of coronary heart disease. This disease causes plaque to build up in the arteries, which eventually could cause a rupture inside of an artery, creating blood clots which could completely block the blood flow to the heart. Another, less common cause of heart attacks is when there is a spasm of one of the coronary arteries.
This results in a heart attack, and if the blood flow is not restored as quickly as possible, then permanent damage occurs to the heart muscle, and it begins to die. This could lead to heart failure and permanent damage, which could result in life-long difficulties.
There are a few warning signs that occur with a heart attack, including chest pain, shortness of breath, and pain or discomfort in the arms, back, shoulders, or the jaw. There could also be light headedness or dizziness, cold sweat, nausea, and fatigue.
Unfortunately, these symptoms only occur once the heart attack is happening. At this point, it can be too late. However, there may be a way to find out if a heart attack is looming months in advance.
According to an Israeli-Canadian study, chronic stress is a huge factor in heart attacks, and a predictor for this can be found by studying the stress hormones levels in hair. The hormone cortisol which is secreted during times of high stress can be measured in the blood, urine, and also the hair.
Since hair grows slowly, on an average of one centimeter per month, a lot of information can be stored in the strands. A six-centimeter-long hair sample can show the cortisol levels over that six month time period, and may signal if someone is at risk due to high levels of stress.
These findings were based on the Israeli-Canadian study, which took hair samples from a group of people who had suffered heart attacks, and also from a control group who had no heart issues. It was found that the concentrations of cortisol in the hair of the first group were elevated in the three months before their episodes.
Although this is a new study, it does show promise as a method of testing for determining whether a patient is at risk of a heart attack. If anything, it can show when cortisol levels are increased, and can be taken as a sign to slow down and de-stress.