How Stress Affects Your Ability to Recover From a Heart Attack

Posted by Meghan Orner on September 11, 2015

How Stress Affects Your Ability to Recover From a Heart Attack

Heart disease is one of today’s most prevalent health risks as it causes approximately 610,000 deaths every year, making it the leading cause of death in both women and men according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It should come as no surprise that stress affects the factors that increase your risk of developing heart disease, but do you know how stress affects your ability to recover from a heart attack?

Recovering from a heart attack can be difficult enough, but a new study from Yale University revealed that it can be even more difficult for those who experience stress in their daily lives.

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Researchers from Yale University compared the data and recovery rate of 1,175 male and 2,397 female heart attack survivors aged 18 to 55. These survivors also participated in the Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes of Young AMI Patients (VIRGO), which focuses on heart attack patients in the United States, Australia and Spain.

To determine how stress affects your ability to recover from a heart attack, researchers compared the patients’ perceived stress levels and their recovery rate during the months prior to and after experiencing a heart attack. Based on this data, here are some of the key findings from this study:

  • When compared to the male patients, women had much higher levels of mental stress.
  • One month after experiencing a heart attack, women showed worse recovery on outcome measures, including physical function and overall health.
  • Researchers concluded that although it was not the sole reason, stress was one of the main contributing factors as to why women had a worse recovery rate.

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Why Women are at a Greater Risk

As the above data shows, women seem to have a much more difficult time recovering from a heart attack due to the stress in their lives. Family issues, such as a conflict, a personal injury or illness, the death or major illness of a family member and business failure, affected these female patients more when compared to the male patients, who were more likely to experience stress over financial matters.   

This added stress and increased risk of experiencing a heart attack is particularly alarming for those members of the sandwich generation, who simultaneously provide care for an aging parent and a child. Between balancing demanding jobs, families and aging parents, it’s no wonder why women are more at risk of experiencing this debilitating stress. However, just like for everyone, exercise and a heart-healthy diet can go a long way in reducing your risk of experiencing a heart attack.

Common Signs and Symptoms

Interestingly enough, the signs and symptoms of a heart attack actually vary according to one’s gender. Below is a list of the most common signs and symptoms of heart attacks in women as outlined by the American Heart Association:

  • Similarly to men, the most common sign that a woman is experiencing a heart attack is chest pain or discomfort – perhaps the most popular analogy is the feeling of an elephant sitting on your chest. This feeling can last for several minutes or the pain will stop only to return after a few minutes. However, not all women experience this symptom as women are more likely to experience the symptoms below.
  • Pain in one or both arms, stomach, jaw or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea, lightheadedness and breaking out in a cold sweat

Should you or your loved one experience or observe any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately so you can receive care as soon as possible. 


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