Women's Heart Health Impacted by Traumatic Life Events

JUNE 18, 2015
Major negative life events may significantly increase middle-aged and older women’s chances of developing heart disease or having a heart attack, suggest the results of a new study presented at the Quality of Care and Outcomes Research 2015 Scientific Sessions. Whereas previous studies have indicated that psychological stress can lead to a higher risk of heart disease and heart attack, this study examined which types of stress had the greatest effect on heart health in middleaged and older women. To do so, the research team asked 26,763 women, with an average age of 56 years, questions about negative life events such as unemployment, legal issues, marital infidelity, financial strain, life-threatening injuries, and deaths of loved ones.

After following up with the women for an average of 9 years and comparing the women who had experienced a heart attack with those who did not, the researchers found that such events as the death of a loved one or a life-threatening illness resulted in an over 65% greater risk of a heart attack among middle-aged and older women, regardless of heart disease risk factors.

“We don’t know whether women are more physiologically vulnerable, as some prior research suggests that decreases in blood flow to the heart caused by acute mentally induced stress is more common in women and individuals with less social support,” said lead author Michelle A. Albert, MD, MPH, in a press release. “At the biological level, we know that adverse experiences including psychological ones can lead to increased inflammation and cortisol levels. However, the interplay between gender, heart disease, and psychological factors is poorly understood.”

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