Results of a study presented in the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego showed that coping with mental stress is harder on a woman's heart, when compared to that of men. Researcher Chester Ray, PhD, professor of medicine, and cellular and molecular physiology at Penn State's College of Medicine in Hershey, reported an increase in blood pressure and heart rate in both men and women who tried to solve equally difficult math problems.
Whenever the blood pressure and heart rate increases, the blood flow to the muscles of the heart also increases so that the heart can work harder. But when under stress, even though the pressure and heart rate increase, blood flow to the heart did not increase in the case of women. “This might be the reason why women are more prone to heart troubles after an emotional upset," says Ray.
In this study, the researchers gave math problems to nine men and eight women participants. All of them were young and healthy and were in their early 20’s. Researchers measured the blood pressure, heart rate, and the blood flow to the heart muscles before, during and after the test. All the participants were asked to repeatedly subtract seven from a random number. Mental stress was increased by decreasing the time provided to solve the problems. Participants were told when an answer was not correct.
Results showed that the all the participants had similar readings for all the medical tests conducted. When the stress started, researchers noted that blood flow to the heart increased in the case of men, but not in women. “This shows that women are more prone to heart problems with mental stress when compared to men," explains Ray. He warns that women should take stress more seriously as per the findings of the study.
Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, a preventive cardiologist and director of Women and Heart Disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, also feels that mental stress is more important on women’s hearts, according to the results of the study. She also agrees that even though everybody should take care of the stress, it is more significant in women and can affect the functioning of the heart. She advises that women who have heart related problems when under stress, should immediately report to the doctor.
William O'Neill, MD, executive dean of research at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, feels that the study explains the ‘broken heart syndrome’. He also feels that women who have discomfort while under stress should immediately let the doctor know about it.