Don’t kid yourself: Women’s heart disease is very different from men’s in more ways than you may be thinking, and that includes the effect that stress has on the heart.

Dr. Gordon A. Ewy, MD, explains how women’s heart disease differs from men in the causation of stress, stiff cardiac muscle and high blood pressure.

Maybe you already know that women’s heart disease is a different animal than is men’s, but perhaps you don’t know that mental stress and high blood pressure play a much bigger role in women’s heart disease than they do in men’s. Also relevant is that of stiff cardiac tissue.

Stress and Heart Disease in Women

“Stress often triggers heart dysfunction in women,” says Gordon A. Ewy, MD, in an article he wrote for the University Sarver Heart Center newsletter (spring, 2010). Dr. Ewy is the Director  Emeritus of the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center.

“Clinical observations of how some individuals experience severe stress or respond unusually to minor stress, have led to our understanding of a condition now called ‘stress cardiomyopathy,’” continues Dr. Ewy in his article.

He adds that most studies show that more than 90 percent of patients who have stress cardiomyopathy are women.

This condition is associated with high levels of the “fight or flight” hormone adrenalin, plus an irregular or fast heartbeat.

This stress-induced form of cardiac ailment, says Dr. Ewy, is reversible in most cases, though he also says in his article, “Tragically, the condition may result in sudden death in the most extreme cases – ‘She was scared to death.’”

Stiff Cardiac Muscle and Women

Dr. Ewy’s report continues, “Heart failure in women is often due to an abnormally stiff heart muscle.

“The heart contracts as it should, but is too stiff to relax normally and requires a higher amount of pressure to fill the major pumping chamber.

This higher pressure backs up into the lungs, resulting in symptoms such as shortness of breath, especially with exertion.”

Women should engage in structured aerobic exercise to help prevent this stiffness from developing.

High Blood Pressure and Women

“Hypertension (high blood pressure) is more common as one gets older, and if inadequately treated, often leads to heart failure due to an abnormally stiff heart, a syndrome more common in women since they tend to live longer than men,” says Dr. Ewy in the report.

What can women do to prevent heart disease?

The article explains, “First, the classic risk factors of high blood pressure, abnormal lipids, diabetes and others, which are often hereditary, need to be addressed.”

He urges a healthy diet, weight control, exercise and avoiding smoking/secondhand smoke.

In the area of research, Dr. Ewy has made significant contributions to the defibrillation and resuscitation of patients with cardiac arrest.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.