Achy Breaky Heart: The Story of Stress

Stress is related to coronary artery disease in women

(RxWiki News) Coronary Artery Disease is a major cause of death in the U.S., affecting many more men than women. Stress has been linked to increased heart disease in women, but not men. New information may tell us why.

Men have shown restricted blood flow in the heart during exercise, while women do not. A new study shows that, during stress, men have improved blood flow, but women do not.

"Excessive stress is unhealthy for both sexes."

"Stress reduction is important for anyone, regardless of gender," explains Chester Ray, PhD, Professor of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Physiology at Penn State. “But this study shines a light on how stress differently affects the hearts of women, potentially putting them at greater risk of a coronary event."

The study looked at 17 healthy adults, with nearly even numbers of men and women. Each participant had their heart rate and blood pressure measured at rest. An ultrasound was used to measure blood flow in the heart.

The participants were then asked to do three minutes of mental math. In order to increase stress, researchers annoyed the participants while they did problems by telling them to hurry up or that they had completed problems incorrectly.

During and after the math exercise all participants underwent the same heart tests.

Before the exercise, there was little difference in the heart tests between men and women. During the test both sexes showed an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

After the test, however, men showed improved blood flow through the heart while women showed no change.

This may predispose women to heart problems when under stress, say the researchers.

More research is needed to discover why these differences arise between men and women, but the team is hopeful that this information will help in designing new research to figure it out.

An abstract of the study will be presented at the meeting Experimental Biology 2012, being held April 21-25 at the San Diego Convention Center. The abstract is sponsored by the American Physiological Society. All research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until it has been published in a peer reviewed journal.

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Review Date: 
April 16, 2012