Experiencing a heart attack is scary enough. But if you’re a young or middle-aged woman and you don’t address the stress in your life, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to a second heart attack—very vulnerable.

New study: Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine studied about 300 men and women, ages 22 to 61, who had suffered heart attacks. The researchers found that the women in this group were twice as likely as the men to experience myocardial ischemia—in which the heart doesn’t get enough blood—brought on by mental stress, which places them at much higher risk of having more heart attacks.


Stress impacts the smallest blood vessels in the body, and this effect happens more in women than in men. That may be why women are more vulnerable to stress-induced heart attacks even though they often have less obstructive heart disease than men, said Hawkins Gay, MD, one of the study researchers. Complicating the emotional element further, young and middle-aged women who survive heart attacks are likely to feel depressed or traumatized by the event…on top of any lifestyle stress, worsening their prognosis.


After suffering a heart attack (or even when trying to avoid one), you’ll typically talk to your doctor about diet, exercise and other positive lifestyle changes to make, such as quitting smoking and drinking less alcohol. But, according to Dr. Gay, discussing how to reduce stress in your life—and how important this is—doesn’t get as much attention as it should. And it’s likely that most doctors simply don’t realize how great a role it can play play in second heart attacks in women.

In Dr. Gay’s view, cardiologists should recommend that every female heart attack patient be screened for high levels of stress.

The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women program offers many ideas for managing stress. One key is learning to turn negatives into positives, such as changing your mind-set from “I can’t do this” to “I’ve got this” when facing a specific project at work, for instance. It helps to break big tasks into smaller ones and reward yourself when you’ve completed a segment.  And when home or work demands get overwhelming, it’s OK to ask for help.

How you respond to stress matters, too. Rather than diving further into upsetting situations—perhaps with the goal of settling them as soon as possible—it’s often less stressful to walk away, for the time being at least, and then revisit the situation once you’ve had a chance to reflect and calm down.


Create a personal game plan to follow when stress escalates with options you can do anywhere, any time. Your list might include…

  • Meditate with a three-minute guided program on your smartphone.
  • Do five minutes of yoga.
  • Take a 10-minute walk.
  • Listen to your favorite music and tune out everything else.
  • Read a relaxing or engrossing book.

Watch a favorite happy movie clip on YouTube.

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