Women have a significantly increased risk of suffering a heart attack if they experience a traumatic life event such as the death of a loved one, a new study has found.
It is already known that stress can affect heart health, however US researchers set out to assess the types of stress that can have a big impact on heart health in middle-aged and older women.
They looked at over 26,700 women with an average age of 56. All were asked about negative events that had occurred in their lives, such as financial problems, marriage problems, job loss, life-threatening illnesses and the death of a loved one.
The women were followed up for an average of nine years.
The study found that women who had experienced traumatic events, such as the death of a loved one or a life-threatening illness, had a 65% increased risk of suffering a heart attack. This was irrespective of other heart risk factors.
As well as this, it also found that women with a history of money struggles had a two-fold increased risk of suffering a heart attack.
The researchers noted that a lot of research in this area has tended to focus on men and people with a history of heart attacks. They said it was important to look at middle-aged and older women ‘as this age group is more susceptible to heart disease as they age and are likely to live longer with disability'.
"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.
"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," commented the team from the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.