Hereditary angioedema (HAE) can cause attacks triggered by stress. People with the condition may experience a cycle of stress, concerned about when the next attack might appear, which may trigger more episodes.

HAE is a rare genetic condition. It causes episodes of swelling in various parts of the body, such as the face, hands, and airways. These episodes are known as attacks and can be life threatening.

Several factors can trigger HAE attacks. Stress is a common trigger.

Those living with HAE may experience higher stress levels than the general population. This can contribute to a stress cycle in which worry about future HAE attacks may trigger further episodes.

Learn more about the connection between HAE and stress, stress management strategies, identifying triggers, and how to cope if an attack occurs.

The link between HAE and stress is multifaceted.

Stress is one of the most commonly reported triggers for an HAE attack.

A 2021 study notes that among patients with HAE, emotional stress was the most common trigger.

The same study suggests those living with HAE may also experience significant stress and anxiety due to the fear of future attacks.

This may be due to the unpredictable nature of attacks and the variability of their occurrence and severity. This, in turn, can create a cycle of stress which may provoke more attacks.

When researchers evaluated the perceived stress of people living with HAE, they found that 64% of the people studied had a higher stress score than the general population.

The stress levels were also higher among those with HAE than those affected by other chronic diseases.

Another study of 28 adult people with HAE found that 61% of those who participated had a moderate stress level, and 14% had a high stress level. In addition, 36% experienced a moderate to high level of discomfort.

The researchers found that stress correlated with psychological discomfort as well as people’s engagement in their health.

Individuals living with HAE may experience a variety of emotions and feelings. These may include:

  • fear
  • anger
  • frustration
  • worry
  • uncertainty
  • stress
  • isolation

Stress is a common trigger for an HAE attack, so managing stress is important.

There are several ways a person can do this, including:

  • following a healthy diet
  • drinking in moderation, if you consume alcohol
  • avoiding highly-processed food
  • exercising regularly
  • maintaining healthy relationships
  • spending time outdoors
  • setting goals and enjoying the process of working to meet them
  • practicing deep breathing

Some people may also benefit from practicing thought challenging. Those living with HAE may worry about several possible scenarios, which may contribute to stress.

Thought challenging involves identifying a particular thought that is causing worry or distress and challenging that thought by asking questions.

For example, Bob is constantly worried that his disease will ruin his son’s childhood. He feels that, due to his illness, he cannot do many of the activities, such as sports, that his father did with him growing up. This makes him feel guilty.

To challenge these thoughts, Bob could ask questions such as:

  • Would he think the same way about another parent whose also lives with HAE?
  • Is it true that not playing sports with his son will ruin his childhood? What about other activities they can do together?

While preventing an HAE attack is not always possible, knowing what triggers them can make managing HAE easier.

Commonly reported triggers for HAE attacks include:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • surgery
  • dental procedures
  • a minor trauma
  • infection, colds, or flu
  • exposure to cold
  • alcohol
  • fatigue

Females with HAE have also reported experiencing an increased number of attacks during menstruation. Pregnant individuals may also have a variation in the frequency of their attacks.

Medications derived from estrogen, such as oral birth control, as well as hormone replacement therapy, may also lead to an increase in HAE attacks.

HAE attacks can happen unexpectedly, but being prepared can help it be easier to cope with.

Feeling prepared for an attack may help reduce feelings of stress, which in turn may reduce the frequency of attacks.

Agreeing on a treatment plan with a physician is a great place to start. This will help a person know what triggers to avoid where possible and what to do in the event of an attack.

Communicating with family and friends ahead of time about HAE can be helpful. It is important that family members know what to do if an attack becomes a medical emergency.

Explaining what they can do to help during an attack — for example, getting medications — will make it less likely that people will panic at the critical moment when support is needed.

Discussing the condition with the employer or school, as well as keeping medication on hand, can help mitigate the risks of a life threatening attack.

HAE is a rare genetic disorder that causes episodes of swelling in the body. This may occur in places such as the face, feets, hands, and airways. These episodes are known as attacks and can be painful and distressing. In some cases, they can be life threatening.

Stress is a common trigger for HAE attacks, but fear of an attack itself may also cause stress. Some people with HAE may find they become stuck in a stress cycle that triggers further episodes.

Being able to identify triggers is one way to manage the stress of HAE. Practicing stress reduction techniques such as exercising and getting outside may be helpful. Thought challenging may also be beneficial.

Having a plan in place for what to do if an attack occurs may reduce stress for people living with HAE.

If a person is experiencing difficulties with the stress of HAE, their friends, family, and care team can help offer support.