May 21, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Emotional Stress Has More Dangerous Effects on a Woman's Heart

Nov 18, 2014 01:37 AM EST

New research finds that young women with heart diseases are more likely than men to have reduced blood flow to their heart, if they are under emotional stress. The researchers discovered that the blood flow restrictions were not associated with physical stress and that women were more likely than men to have reduced cardiac blood flow.

 

According to study author Viola Vaccarino from the Emory University in the US, "Women who develop heart disease at a younger age make up a special high risk group because they are disproportionately vulnerable to emotional stress."

"Young and middle aged women may be more vulnerable to emotional stress because they face considerable burden of stressors in everyday life such as managing kids, marriage, jobs and caring for parents," Vaccarino added.

Biology may also play a role such as a stronger tendency towards abnormal blood vessel function during emotional stress, which includes exaggerated constriction of coronary or peripheral blood vessels.

In the study, researchers gave a standardized mental stress test and a physical stress test to 534 patients with stable coronary heart disease. For the mental stress protocol, patients were asked to imagine a stressful life situation and deliver a speech about this story in front of a small audience.

According to reports, the researchers used nuclear imaging to take pictures of the heart while undergoing each of the two stress tests and while at rest. Heart rate and blood pressure were also monitored during both mental and physical tests. They then analyzed the differences in coronary blood flow based on gender and age.

The results yielded the following findings: compared with men of the same age, women aged 55 and younger had three times greater reduction in blood flow to the heart. Women generally develop heart disease later in life than men.

In contrast to the large differences in blood flow observed with mental stress, there were no differences in blood flow with physical stress between women and men.

However, young women who have premature heart attacks are more likely to die than men of similar age. Risk factors, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, do not explain these mortality differences.

"Health care providers should be aware of young and middle-age women's special vulnerability to stress and ask the questions about psychological stress that often don't get asked," Vaccarino said.

"If they note that their patient is under psychological stress or is depressed, they should advise the woman to get relevant help or support from mental health providers, stress reduction programs, or other means."

The study was presented at the ongoing American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.

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