Men and women react different to mental stress
While it is no surprise that men and women are different, a new study says they also react differently to mental stress. Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology this month, researchers found that both genders have radically diverse responses in their cardiovascular and psychological reactions when they are stressed out.
The study examined 310 people diagnosed with heart disease and enrolled them in the study about their impact when they are on medication escitalopram, which is a drug used for treating depression and generalized anxiety disorder.
After undergoing baseline testing, participants carried out three mentally stressful tasks — a mental arithmetic test, a mirror tracing test and an anger recall test — followed by a treadmill exercise test. During mental stress tasks and rest periods between tests, researchers conducted studies to monitor changes in the heart, took blood samples, and measured blood pressure and heart rate.
“The relationship between mental stress and cardiovascular disease is well known,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Zainab Samad, assistant professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, in a news release. “This study revealed that mental stress affects the cardiovascular health of men and women differently.”
The results showed while men and women had similar baseline characteristics in their heart rate, women had a higher rate of depression and anxiety. In addition, more women experienced decreased blood flow to the heart. That could cause an increase in blood clots, more than their male counterparts. Women also had heightened spike in negative emotions following their mental stress test. Men were more likely than women to show changes in physiological measures such as blood pressure.
Researchers said more tests need to be done to further examine the gender differences in the heart’s responses to stress. Doctors believe stress can affect so many different aspects of the body and more women are starting to get ailments at the same rate as men.
“Before when you heard of heart attacks, men were leading women by a far margin. Now, women are quickly catching up,” says Dr. Dominic Tolitano, a thoracic surgeon at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago. “Also, whether you are stressed or not, healthy lifestyle choices are important. I don’t know how many times I have done surgeries on people’s hearts and arteries, and then I am walking down the street and I see them smoking a cigarette. Sometimes, smoking is people’s go to when they are stressed.”
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