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Stress, heart health and gender differentiation


Heart disease continues to be a leading cause of death in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of people die each year. However, heart disease is not an equal opportunity killer, favoring men over women. Researchers are continually looking for the reasons why.

In a quest to identify the disparities, Charity L. Sauder, Alison E. Thompson, Terrell Myers, and Chester A. Ray, from Penn State College of Medicine, looked into the effects of mental stress on blood flow through the heart. They found that coronary blood flow actually increases in men during mental stress, and shows no change in women. This may be why women could be more susceptible to adverse cardiac events when under stress.

Men and women took the same tests where they were put under pressure while answering a variety of questions. Their heart rates and blood pressure were taken at rest as well as throughout the testing. Results showed that men and women measured the same when at rest. During the math portion of the testing both sexes showed an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. The difference came when the men showed an increase in coronary vascular conductance under stress and the women did not.

This condition could predispose women to heart problems while under stress. This is surprising since previous studies have shown that men have significantly less blood flow than woen during the physical stress of exercise. This might explain why women tend to have more heart troubles after stressful events.

“Stress reduction is important for anyone , regardless of gender,” Ray explained. “But this study shines a light on how stress differently affects the hearts of women, potentially putting them at greater risk of coronary event.”

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

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