Mental stress increases vulnerability to heart attacks in younger women: Study

When someone is exposed to extremely stressful situations for a longer period of time and does not take any remedial measures to counter its drastic effects, it may prove detrimental to their health and well-being. Studies have shown that men and women react differently to stress, both mentally and physically. Though each person uses different mechanisms to handle stress, it is important to determine one’s tolerance level toward stressful situations.

A new study titled, “Mental Stress and Myocardial Ischemia: Young Women at Risk,” published in the Journal of the American Heart Association revealed that younger women suffering from coronary heart disease are more likely to experience a heart attack due to reduced blood flow to the heart muscle, a condition known as myocardial ischemia, than men and older patients.

Younger women tend to experience a lot of stress in their lives

In response to a potentially dangerous situation the body may experience a “fight or flight syndrome,” wherein stress hormones are released into the bloodstream. Living with anxiety all the time can trigger an array of physical and mental ailments. Younger and middle-aged women are categorized as a high-risk group when it comes to stress, due to their disproportionally high vulnerability to emotional stress. This is because this group is usually burdened with numerous responsibilities, including work, childcare and, in many cases, caring for aging parents, that always keeps them on their toes.

As part of the study, the researchers recruited 686 people, aged 34-79 years, with coronary heart disease, of which 191 were women. Using imaging tests, the researchers took pictures of each patient’s heart, before, and during mentally stressful situations to detect differences in the pattern of blood flow in both men and women. The results showed that 33 percent of women aged 50 years or below were prone to a reduction in the blood flow due to stress, as compared to 8 percent of their male counterparts. However, in older patients, this disparity between men and women gradually disappeared. Moreover, for every 10-year decrease in age, the prevalence of reduced blood flow appeared to double in women as compared to men.

However, further studies need to be conducted to provide an in-depth analysis of the role of mental stress in triggering heart attacks in younger women. “Our findings suggest that women with heart disease in their 30s, 40s and early 50s are more vulnerable to the damaging effects of psychological stress on their heart,” said Viola Vaccarino, M.D., Ph.D., lead study author, professor and chair of the department of epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Studies have shown that women experience a series of complications including death following a heart attack, unlike men who do not experience such higher rates of disabilities. With a dramatic rise in coronary heart disease among American men and women, it is important to develop innovative measures to effectively tackle the situation.

Leading a stress-free life

Though more Americans are now becoming aware of the existence of mental health disorders and their potential symptoms, more steps need to be taken in this direction. The prevalence of mental health disorders is a big burden for the U.S. today and lack of adequate medical facilities has only exacerbated the condition. Strategies need to be developed to ensure that mentally ill people are able to receive the highest level of therapeutic interventions.

If you or your loved one is battling mental stress, or any other mental ailment, get connected to the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline to learn about the best mental health programs in the U.S. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online with one of our mental health experts for information on mental health rehabilitation centers in your vicinity.