Impact of Mental Stress on Heart Differs Among Men and Women, Study

First Posted: Oct 14, 2014 06:14 AM EDT

Men and women have different cardiovascular and psychological reactions to mental stress, a new study states.

Stress is often accompanied by a range of physical reactions. These symptoms include characteristics of physical and mental disorders. Even short-lived minor stress can have a drastic impact. In the latest study, researchers from the Duke Heart Center focused on 56 women and 254 men who were diagnosed with heart diseases and were part of the larger REMIT study.

"The relationship between mental stress and cardiovascular disease is well known," said the study lead author Zainab Samad, M.D., M.H.S., assistant professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina. "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 study looked at the impact of medication escitalopram on heart disease induced by mental stress. They found that among men and women who were already treated for heart disease, they had different cardiovascular and psychological reactions to mental stress.

After undergoing baseline testing, as a part of the study, the participants carried out three different mentally stressful tasks that included a mental arithmetic test, a mirror tracing test, and an anger recall test that was again followed by a treadmill test.

In order to study the variations in the heart, the researchers conducted echocardiography during the mental stress tasks and the rest period between tests. They also collected blood samples and measured the blood pressure and heart rate.

They observed that it was in men that more changes were noticed in blood pressure and heart rate in response to mental stress. On the other hand, more women experienced myocardial ischemia - lowered blood flow to the heart. Women also experienced rise in platelet aggregative - which is the beginning of the formation of blood clots.

When compared to women, men also had higher increase in the negative emotions and had a greater decrease in the positive emotion during the mental stress tests.

"At this point, further studies are needed to test the association of sex differences in the heart's responses to mental stress and long term outcomes," Samad said. "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."

The study was documented in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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