What Emotional Stress Does to the Heart

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What Emotional Stress Does to the Heart

Study finds psychological stress can restrict blood flow in young women with heart disease

Juggling marriage, children and jobs—and sometimes caring for aging parents, too—can make younger women with heart disease vulnerable to the ravages of emotional stress. This is the conclusion of new research, which found that emotional stress can take a greater physical toll on younger women with heart disease compared to men and seniors of both genders with the disease.

In the study, 534 patients with stable coronary heart disease were given a mental stress test. Nuclear imaging during the test showed that women aged 55 and younger had a reduction in blood flow to the heart three times greater than men the same age. But a physical stress test given to study participants of both genders and of all ages showed no differences in blood flow to the heart.

“Women who develop heart disease at a younger age make up a special high-risk group because they are disproportionally vulnerable to emotional stress,” said study author Viola Vaccarino, M.D., chairwoman of cardiovascular research and epidemiology at Emory University’s School of Public Health. She attributed this vulnerability to many women’s attempts to balance multiple roles—from spouse to parent, from good employee to caregiver—in everyday life.

Doctors need to be aware of this disparity and “ask the questions about psychological stress that often don’t get asked,” Dr. 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.”

BHM Edit Staff