May 10 (UPI) -- Emotional stress may trigger an irregular heart beat, which can lead to a more serious heart condition later in life, new research shows.
New research shows how two proteins that interconnect in the heart can malfunction during stressful moments, leading to arrhythmia, according to a study published Wednesday in Molecular Cell.
"The big picture of our work is to understand how stress signals affect a protein in the heart muscle that is critical for heart contraction," Filip Van Petegem, a research at University of British Columbia, said in a news release.
During stressful situations, a heart protein gets tagged by another protein helping it pass along calcium. That exchange helps heart contraction.
If the tag lasts too long or occurs too frequently, however, it can disrupt the heart's electric signals and cause arrhythmia.
"Normally, the protein is tagged, the heart rate goes up, then the tag is removed and all is fine. This process allows the heart to adapt to the needs of the environment," Van Petegem said.
Over time, arrhythmia can progress and cause more serious health problems.
The new study supports previous research suggesting stress brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder can also cause an irregular heart beat.
The most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, which affects up to 6.1 million people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We've identified a lot of areas where we think a small molecule could be used to interrupt the excessive tagging," Van Petegem said. "It's hypothetical, but it's definitely an avenue worth pursuing."