Young Women: Stress Can Take a Dangerous Heart Toll

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New Study Finds Mental Stress Linked to Deadly Condition in Women with Existing Heart Disease

Being diagnosed with heart disease as a younger woman is bad enough. Add stress to the mix and experts say it is downright dangerous, according to a new study.

Research  in the Journal of the American Heart Association finds younger women in their 30s, 40s and early 50s who suffer from existing heart disease and mental stress are more susceptible to myocardial ischemia, a condition in which the heart receives less blood flow, leading to heart attacks.

More evidence about gender differences in heart disease

Caitlin Giesler, MD, medical director of the Women’s Heart Center at the Ascension Seton Heart Institute, is not surprised by these new findings. “This study may explain why women, especially young women, are more likely to die following a heart attack.”

Coronary heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American men and women, but research shows younger women have higher rates of complications and death after a heart attack compared to men.

“The types of stress for women are different than men. Stress in women is more geared toward work and family life balance, being able to do multiple things at the same time, and there’s a lot of stress for those expectations,” said Kimberly Kjome, MD, a psychiatrist and medical director of Ascension Seton Shoal Creek Hospital.

Stress and “female pattern” heart disease

At the Women’s Heart Center, Giesler says she sees women with abnormal blood flow to the heart brought on by emotional stress.

“We know that treating a woman’s risk factors and addressing stress improves symptoms. For a long time, we thought that abnormal blood flow could only be caused by major blockages in blood vessels. This study may begin to explain the mechanism of ‘female pattern’ heart disease.”

Symptoms of heart disease for women include chest pressure or discomfort in the middle of the chest, and radiating pain to the neck and jaw.

Ascension Seton is part of Ascension, the nation’s largest Catholic and nonprofit health care system.