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Stress Linked to Heart Deaths in Women

They were 1.64 times more likely to die of a heart attack, Japanese study finds

MONDAY, Aug. 12, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- In what its authors say is the most extensive research of its kind, a new Japanese study reports that women under high levels of stress are more likely to die of heart disease than their more relaxed counterparts.

The researchers found middle-aged and older Japanese women who reported high levels of stress were 2.24 times more likely to suffer a stroke and 1.64 times more likely to die of a heart attack.

"They have clearly demonstrated a link between stress and cardiovascular disease," says Dr. David Shaw, a cardiologist at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego.

The researchers, at the University of Tsukuba, analyzed the medical records of 73,424 people -- 30,180 men and 43,244 women -- who were enrolled in a cancer risk study. All those studied were between the ages of 40 and 79 and didn't have previous signs of heart disease.

At the start of the study, the researchers asked the participants about the level of stress in their lives. Those women who reported struggling with stress at the beginning of the study were 2.28 times more likely to suffer from heart disease. And they were 2.24 times more likely to suffer a stroke and 1.64 times more likely to die of a heart attack.

During the next eight years, 2.6 percent of the men died of heart disease, as did 1.5 percent of the women.

The researchers say their findings are significant because other studies into stress and heart disease didn't look closely at non-white people or women. Other studies also examined groups with fewer numbers of heart deaths, the researchers add.

According to the study, those women with higher stress levels were younger, more educated and thinner than the other women. Even so, they suffered from higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes.

They also smoked more and were more likely to work full time.

While the study focused largely on women, it also found that stressed-out men were 1.74 times more likely to die of heart disease than other men.

The findings appear in tomorrow's issue of Circulation.

Shaw says stress has a variety of effects on the cardiovascular system. It raises blood pressure, squeezes blood vessels tighter and makes blood more likely to clot, he says.

Stress itself doesn't cause heart disease, but it can exacerbate existing risk factors like smoking or obesity, Shaw says.

"There are some individuals who do extremely well by changing their life situation to get away from a stressful situation or learning how to modify stress," he says.

Yoga, meditation, counting to "10" or simply walking away from stressful settings can all help patients, he says.

What To Do

To learn the warning signs of a heart attack, visit the American Heart Association or HeartInfo.org.

SOURCES: David Shaw, M.D., chief, medical staff, and director, clinical cardiology, Scripps Mercy Hospital, San Diego; Aug. 13, 2002, Circulation
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