11/01/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Why The Financial Crisis Might Break Your Heart

If you think the current economic crisis is hurting only your pocketbook, think again. Researchers say the decline of Wall Street, the mortgage crisis, and the looming threat of layoffs may take a heavy toll on your heart, especially if you are already at risk for cardiac problems.

"Financial stress can cause your whole cardiovascular system to be off," says Louise Hawkley, PhD, associate director of the Social Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Chicago. "Elevated stress hormones constrict the blood vessels and create a vicious cycle where blood scrapes the cells and aggravates atherosclerotic plaque, which increases your risk for a cardiovascular event like a heart attack."

She adds that new research suggests the social isolation of being laid off from a job can compound the problem. One study found that older workers who lost their jobs had a two-fold increase in the risk for subsequent heart attack and stroke.

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