#126 Do Smartphones Cause Heart Attacks?

October 12th, 2015 by

Do Smartphones Cause Heart Attacks?

“What are you working on?” Jane asked.

“I’m just checking my email really quickly,” I replied.

Had I been at my office this would have been OK.  Sadly, we were out on our weekly date.

A recent study shows that 70% of people in a romantic relationship have been snubbed by their partner’s phone.  Related studies show that 60% of college students have a smartphone addiction and these students can spend up to 10 hours a day on their phones!

In this article, I share the latest scientific data on the cardiac risks of phone snubbing, or “phubbing,” as well as heavy phone use in general.

What is Phubbing?

Phone snubbing, or “phubbing,” is a new word describing a situation where someone looks at their phone rather than the person they are with.  Phubbing could range from taking a cell phone call while you are talking to another person to checking email, text messages, or Facebook posts.

The Dangers of Phubbing

To better understand the risks of phubbing in our modern society, researchers James A. Roberts and Meredith E. David from Baylor University recently published a study on the impact of phubbing on 308 adults.  As you might have suspected, given the significance of this problem, this study received worldwide media attention.

Here is what they found in this study.  Phubbers and victims of phubbing are more likely to suffer from the following:

1. Strained relationships

2. Increased anxiety

3. Decreased life satisfaction

4. Increased risk of depression

Of course, this study does not prove that phubbing causes relationship breakups, anxiety, unhappy lives, and depression.  It is equally possible that the reason why these people “phubbed” is that they were already suffering from these problems.  Regardless, common sense tells us that phubbing can’t be healthy.

Are You a Phubber?

Are you guilty of phubbing?  Here are six of the phubber criteria as established by James A. Roberts and Meredith E. David in this study.

1. During a typical mealtime that my partner and I spend together, my partner pulls out and checks his/her cell phone.

2. My partner places his or her cell phone where they can see it when we are together.

3. When my partner’s cell phone rings or beeps, he/she pulls it out even if we are in the middle of a conversation.

4. My partner glances at his/her cell phone when talking to me.

5. During leisure time that my partner and I are able to spend together, my partner uses his/her cell phone.

6. If there is a lull in our conversation, my partner will check his or her cell phone.

What Are the Dangers of Cell Phone Use?

While we all have heard about the possible cell phone brain cancer link and the dangers of texting while driving, could there be other equally dangerous risks?

While not as dangerous as a possible brain tumor or an automobile accident, heavy smartphone users now often suffer from “text neck.”  As the head can put 60 pounds of pressure on the neck when tilted down to text it is not hard to imagine why smartphones are quickly becoming one of the leading causes of chronic neck pain.  Not only does “text neck” cause chronic neck pain but it can also cause you to be permanently hunched over.

Perhaps much more serious than “text neck” is that studies show that heavy smartphone use increases stress levels.  Even more frightening is that depression may follow those people who can’t ever seem to put their phones down.

Do Smartphones Cause Heart Attacks?

As we have learned from this “phubbing” study, broken relationships, stress, and depression often follow phubbers and their victims.  According to medical studies, what are the cardiac dangers of bad relationships, anxiety, and depression?

1. Broken relationships increase the risk of heart attacks by up to 45%.

2. Stressed out people are more than twice as likely to suffer a heart attack.

3. Depressed people are up to 6 times more likely to die from heart problems.

6 Ways to Beat Your Cell Phone Addiction

As smartphones are part of modern life, what can you do to protect your heart?  Here is how I advise my patients.

1. Download the Breakfree App

Are you addicted to your smartphone?  Awareness and tracking are critical steps in identifying and breaking any harmful habit.

To help me with my own smartphone addiction, I have recently downloaded the free iPhone and Android app, Breakfree.  I like this app because it will give you your own honest smartphone addiction score.

In addition, Breakfree will tell you how many times you unlock your phone each day, how much time you spend on your phone, and it will tell you exactly how you are spending all of your phone time.  For those of you with kids, this app can monitor their phone use and determine when they can and cannot access the internet.

2. Unplug

As scary as it might seem, you need to periodically unplug from your phone for a healthy heart.  This “unplugging” helps you to connect with those things in life that really matter most.

At minimum, I recommend unplugging for the first 30 minutes after you wake up and for the last 30 minutes of your day before bed.  You just don’t need the stress that comes from checking your phone first thing in the morning or the sleep loss from checking your phone just before bed.

Some of my patients have shared with me that they actually turn their smartphone off on Sundays or when out with friends.  Personally, when I am not on call, and everyone has made it back home safely at night, I have started switching my iPhone to the airplane mode to help me resist cell phone distractions.

3. Turn Off Notifications

The constant buzzing or chirping of a smartphone will drive anyone but the most focussed to check their phones.  Knowing my own personal weaknesses, I have turned off every notification except the ringing of an incoming call.  To keep a ringing phone from driving me crazy, I have only given out my cell phone number to my closest friends, family members, and my office staff.

4. Delete Non-Critical Apps

To minimize temptations, do you really need the Facebook app on your smartphone?  Are there other apps you can delete to save you from your phone?

5. No Devices at Meals

Mealtimes are times to eat mindfully and connect with other people.  Outside of the dangers of “phubbing” someone during mealtime, screen time at mealtime can quadruple your risk of obesity.

We have had to establish rules in our home as children, as well as adults, will naturally gravitate to electronic devices during mealtime if left unchecked.  Commit now to device free mealtimes with your family and friends.

6. Vote Now to Stop Phubbing

There is now an organization dedicated to the mission of eradicating phubbing.  While this might be a bit much for some, if you are motivated to end phubbing, like me, you can visit their website and vote to stop phubbing.

Are you guilty of phubbing?  Have you been phubbed before?  Please leave your comments below for our community to read.