Stress levels linked to heart attack recovery outcomes in women: study

WATCH ABOVE: Why young and middle-aged women have a tougher time recovering from a heart attack. Jennifer Palisoc reports. 

TORONTO – Stress is a risk factor for heart disease, but it also plays a key role in determining how women recover following a heart attack, new research suggests.

Yale University researchers say high stress levels could explain why young and middle-aged women have a hard time recovering post-heart attack.

“Our study found a significantly higher level of mental stress in women 18 to 55 years old with heart attack compared to their male counterparts,” Dr. Xiao Xu, the study’s lead author, said.

The study is based on the health data of 2,379 women and 1,175 men who survived a heart attack. The group is part of a large-scale observational study run out of the United States, Spain and Australia.

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READ MORE: Male heart attack patients receive faster care than women

During their initial hospital stay after suffering from a heart attack, the scientists recorded patients’ perceived stress levels.

Turns out, women had a worse recovery one month after their heart attack on multiple outcomes, such as chest pain. They also encountered more mental stress and worried about their families.

Men tended to worry about financial matters more.

The study, published Monday afternoon in the journal Circulation, is a piece of a larger body of research zeroing in on how mental health affects health outcomes. It also adds to growing research on the disparities between men and women when it comes to heart health.

READ MORE: Do heart attack survivors change their unhealthy ways? Study suggests they don’t

A Canadian study published last year, for example, warned that men receive faster care than women when it comes to heart attacks.

Men seem to get access to electrocardiograms and medicine to unblock clogged arteries within the recommended time frame after arriving at the emergency room while women wait longer, the McGill University study warned. Women were also less likely to receive these invasive treatments overall.

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But gender, not sex, may be at play in understanding this disparity. If men had “typically feminine” traits, they’d lower their odds of treatment just like their female counterparts. Gender stereotypes included social roles like child care, doing chores around the house, being sensitive to others, or being “tender” or “gentle.”

Even with advances in heart disease treatment, notable differences between sex still exist — women have higher death risk for heart attacks, especially younger adults.

READ MORE: Quarter of heart attack patients weren’t tested for diabetes or high cholesterol

Women tend to have more health problems related to their heart disease than men — diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity. Women also experience heart attacks differently than men. A distinct difference is that they’re less likely to report chest pain — a key symptom of a heart attack.

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