For many years medical professionals have noticed that the impact of psychological factors like stress on cardiovascular health is much more prominent in women than in men. But there is still a lack of adequate data regarding this co-relation.
The Silent Killer: Coronary Heart Diseases In Women As A Result Of Psychological Stress
Stress as a risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD)
An important study was conducted recently in Philadelphia at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health regarding the impact of different psychological stressors on women’s heart health.
- The study included within its ambit different stressors like work pressure, traumatic life events, social expectations
- The researchers analyzed the data available on women’s heart health in the Women’s Health Initiative Organizational Study (WHIOS)
- The impact of the different stressors and incidences of coronary heart diseases were matched to find co-relation
- The study found that work pressure and social expectations cause tremendous stress for women and increase their chances of CHD by almost 21%
- Complicated and traumatic life events increased chances of CHD in women by 12% and stresses of social relationships increased instances of CHD among women by 19%
This study brings forth the intensely devastating effect of stress on women’s mental and physical health and quantities the data which till now had just remained as an assumption. The study at Drexel puts forward the need for better stress management strategies for women for the sake of their mental peace as well as for their physical health.
Why is the impact of stressors stronger in women than in men?
Extreme and prolonged stress can disrupt the homeostasis or the normal functioning of the body. As a result, cardiovascular systems and metabolic systems may not be able to operate properly. Stress also encourages other physically harmful habits like smoking and drinking which also increase risks of CHD. The biological reactions of the body to stress is similar in men and women, but the reason why women suffer from stress-related CHD more is that work and social lifestyle usually exposes women to many more stressors:
- Social scientists believe that women are often exposed to different kinds of pressures that men don’t have to face in daily life
- Studies have found that women usually report experiencing higher levels of psychological stress than men
- Physical and behavioral manifestations of stress like fatigue and depression are also more common in women
But our knowledge of the impact of stress on women is still very limited. We do not know which stressors are more likely to cause CHD. We do not have answers on how women should avoid or reduce psychological stress. Besides this, most studies that have been conducted are on average white women. The effects of other genetic, social and environmental factors on exposure to stress and instances of CHD have not been investigated yet.
What are the solutions?
The solutions for women at present are limited by the lack of scientific knowledge on the subject. But some possible solutions could be:
- Better psychological support in the workplace
- Better social systems to reduce the pressure on women for child care
- Improved financial support systems for women in order to help them overcome generations of inherent bias in all professional and social set-ups
- Increased awareness about women’s physical health and the need for regular heart check-ups
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) takes the lives of many women every single year. It also affects the ability of women to be gainfully employed. But some basic lifestyle changes, some support from the wider society and improved medical research can save the lives of many women suffering from CHD. Let us all try to ensure a less stressful and healthier world for the women in our lives.