Commuter stress: D.C. commute can add to existing health problems

Even though Sonja Twilick said she's wanted to own a horse farm all her life, the commute between her home and work has begun to take its toll.

For the past year, Twilick has been driving between Warrenton, Va., and Rockville, Md., five days per week.

"When you work an hour and a half away, there's so much to contend with," she said. "Construction on 66. Traffic on 66."

Studies show that women who have a family history of heart disease are at a much higher risk of suffering a heart attack, which is of particular concern to Twilick, whose mother just had one.

"My mother smoked when she was younger," Twilick said. "Sitting in traffic is more stressful than smoking."

Dr. Brian Choi, a cardiologist in Washington, D.C., said the combination of a family history and the stress of the morning commute could be a trigger.

"Unfortunately, I have seen patients that have had heart attacks during their morning commute," he said.{ }

Lisa Baden, a traffic reporter in D.C., knows personally the connection it has with a person's health.

Last March, her brother-in-law swerved across two lanes of traffic and crashed into a tree after suffering from a stroke. He passed away six months later.

Baden doesn't know if the stroke was caused by commuter stress, but she does know that driving in Washington can be a nightmare.{ }

"We had so much sprawl resulting in the crawl. [It has] caused so much pressure on the highway. The commute certainly can add to an existing health issue," she said.{ }

As for Twilick, she said coming home to her horses helps her to cope.

"Coming here and taking care of the horses is like therapy. I guess it makes it all worth it, right?" she said.