‘Vital Exhaustion’ Increases Heart Attack Risk in Men: What to Know

A study looked at how “vital exhaustion” can take a toll on the heart. Charday Penn/Getty Images

Vital exhaustion refers to excessive fatigue, feelings of demoralization, and increased irritability.Recent research finds tha…

A study looked at how “vital exhaustion” can take a toll on the heart. Charday Penn/Getty Images
  • Vital exhaustion refers to excessive fatigue, feelings of demoralization, and increased irritability.
  • Recent research finds that vital exhaustion significantly increases heart attack risk in men.
  • Researchers say that besides living a healthy lifestyle, greater involvement in social groups can make people less vulnerable to stress, which can help them maintain cardiovascular health.

Men experiencing a condition called vital exhaustion are more likely to have a heart attack, according to a new study recently presented at the ESC Acute CardioVascular Care 2021, an online scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).  

Vital exhaustion refers to excessive fatigue, feelings of demoralization, and increased irritability.

“Overall, 67 percent of the men had vital exhaustion, [and] 15 percent had a high level,” study author Dmitriy Panov, PhD, from the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia, told Healthline. “Gender differences in response features to distress and the manifestation of VE are especially important.”

He also explained that, despite the fact that the “frequency of negative effects” is higher among women, his research finds the association of vital exhaustion with cardiovascular events is still more common among men.

Men with vital exhaustion had almost 3 times greater risk of heart attack

Panov’s research investigated the relationship between vital exhaustion and heart attack risk in men without a prior history of cardiovascular disease.

The study used data from the World Health Organization (WHO) MONICA project. A representative sample of 657 men in Novosibirsk, Russia, were registered for this research in 1994. They were 25 to 64 years old.

In the overall group, researchers analyzed the association between vital exhaustion at the start of the study and the participants' risk for heart attack.

Compared with those who didn't have vital exhaustion, men with moderate or high levels of vital exhaustion had a 2.7-fold increased risk of experiencing heart attack within 5 years.

They had a 2.25 higher risk of heart attack within 10 years and a slightly higher than twofold risk within 14 years.

“Overall, 67 percent of the men had vital exhaustion, [and] 15 percent had a high level,” Panov said.

He emphasized this was an epidemiological survey, and the results only covered the male part of the population.

“Our recent publications demonstrated gender disparities in prevalence and differences in effect of vital exhaustion on the cardiovascular risk, myocardial infarction, stroke, arterial hypertension,” he said.

Vital exhaustion is response to intractable problems, expert says

“Vital exhaustion is another name for stress and the feeling of helplessness,” said Dr. Guy L. Mintz, Northwell Health’s director of cardiovascular health and lipidology at the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in New York.  

According to Mintz, vital exhaustion is believed to be a response to “intractable problems,” in particular to ongoing stress.

That could be the result of financial, personal or societal stressors that a person has to deal with on an ongoing basis.

He further explained that researchers were simply using “another metric” to identify stress and depression.

“It is no surprise that people with the highest levels of stress are more likely to suffer a heart attack,” he confirmed.

Panov noted that his findings show a pattern where social disadvantage or lack of social support relates to vital exhaustion and an increased risk of heart disease.

“It is known that growth of infarction incidence in early post-Soviet period was not explained by traditional risk factors,” Panov said. “That is why we studied psychosocial factors which were rising during these years.”

How might vital exhaustion increase heart attack risk?

According to Mintz, whether it’s a first or second heart attack, the mechanism is the same.

“Stress can lead to an increase in blood pressure, which is a major cardiovascular risk factor for a heart attack and stroke,” he said.

“Stress and depression, or feelings of helplessness, can lead to overeating, causing higher cholesterol, obesity, and insulin resistance,” Mintz said.

Mintz added that this type of behavior can also lead to prediabetes or diabetes, and both are cardiovascular disease risk factors.

“Obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes cause inflammation, which is another significant cardiac risk factor. Lack of motivation can cause people to ‘give up’ and not exercise or care,” Mintz said.

“Stress and depression can lead to abnormal sleep patterns, with people getting less than 6 hours of sleep or more than 9 hours of sleep being at increased risk for a heart attack,” he said.

Mintz said he wasn’t surprised that according to the study, 74 percent of men with vital exhaustion had high blood pressure.

“Did the vital exhaustion cause the high incidence in high blood pressure? This is certainly possible,” he said.

Panov pointed out that efforts to improve well-being and reduce stress at home and at work may help reduce vital exhaustion.

He explained that greater involvement in community groups can increase social support to make men less vulnerable to stress, and when combined with a healthy lifestyle, should benefit heart health.

The bottom line

Recent research finds that vital exhaustion, characterized by a combination of stress, demoralization, and extreme fatigue, can significantly increase heart attack risk in men.

Experts say this might be because vital exhaustion increases the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes due to stress-related eating, which can cause obesity. All these conditions are risk factors of heart disease.

Researchers say that besides living a healthy lifestyle, greater involvement in social groups can make people less vulnerable to stress, which can help them maintain cardiovascular health.