New research shows that emotional stress is more likely to physically impact younger women with heart disease compared to men with heart disease.

“Women who develop heart disease at a younger age make up a special high-risk group because they are disproportionally vulnerable to emotional stress,” study author Dr. Viola Vaccarino, chairwoman of cardiovascular research and epidemiology at Emory University’s School of Public Health, said in an American Heart Association news release.

The study included 534 patients with stable coronary heart disease who were given a mental stress test that included recalling a stressful life event and talking about it to a small audience.

During the test, nuclear imaging showed that women aged 55 and younger had a reduction in blood flow to the heart that was 3 times greater than men of the same age. Women aged 56 to 64 had coronary blood flow reduction twice that of men the same age.

However, there was no difference in coronary blood flow among women and men aged 65 and older during periods of emotional stress, according to the findings.

Dr. Vaccarino noted that many young and middle-aged women face high levels of stress in everyday life as they manage children, marriage, jobs and caring for aging parents.

Doctors need to be aware that young and middle-aged women are especially vulnerable to stress and to “ask the questions about psychological stress that often don’t get asked,” she said.

“If they note that their patient is under psychological stress or is depressed, they should advise the woman to get relevant help or support from mental health providers, stress reduction programs or other means,” she added.

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