Past research has indicated that mental stress may influence heart health. Now, a new study claims the effects of mental stress on the heart may differ between men and women.
The research team, led by Dr. Zainab Samad, assistant professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC, publish their findings in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Dr. Samad and her team analyzed 310 participants – 56 women and 254 men – who were being treated for heart disease and who were part of the Responses of the Mental Stress Induced Myocardial Ischemia to Escitalopram Treatment (REMIT) study.
As part of the study, all participants were required to take part in three tasks that induced mental stress: a mental arithmetic test, a mirror tracing test and an anger recall test. They then took part in an exercise test requiring them to run on a treadmill.
During each task and in rest periods between tasks, subjects’ blood pressure and heart rate were measured, blood samples were taken and any heart changes were monitored through an echocardiogram.
The researchers found that the effects of mental stress on the heart varied significantly between men and women.
Women exposed to mental stress were more likely than men to experience myocardial ischemia – reduced blood flow to the heart as a result of a blockage in the arteries. Stressed women also had higher incidence of platelet aggregation – the early formation of blood clots. Mental stress also induced more negative emotions and fewer positive emotions in women than men.
Men, however, demonstrated more changes in blood pressure and heart rate than women in response to mental stress.
Commenting on the team’s findings, Dr. Samad says:
“The relationship between mental stress and cardiovascular disease is well known. This study revealed that mental stress affects the cardiovascular health of men and women differently. We need to recognize this difference when evaluating and treating patients for cardiovascular disease.”
The researchers note that further studies are warranted to better understand how the effects of mental stress on the heart differ by sex, particularly the long-term effects.
“This study also underscores the inadequacy of available risk prediction tools, which currently fail to measure an entire facet of risk, i.e. the impact of negative physiological responses to psychological stress in both sexes, and especially so among women,” adds Dr. Samad.
Last year, Medical News Today reported on another study by Duke researchers, claiming that a gene change linked to stress is also associated with a 38% increased risk of heart attack or death in patients with heart disease.
A more recent study published in the European Heart Journal suggested that there is an increased risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular events in the 2 hours following an anger outburst.