Research shows that women who are middle-aged, or older, will have a sixty five percent higher chance of having a heart attack after they experience traumatic life events such as major illness, the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, or severe financial difficulties.

The Women’s Health Study

The Women’s Health Study was performed with two hundred and sixty seven United States women who had a history of heart attacks. Their medical data was compared with that of two hundred and eighty one women who had no history of heart attacks.

All of the women were approximately the same age. The women had the same other risk factors such as their smoking statuses.

The study was conducted by Michelle Albert, MD who works as a professor of medicine in the University of California campus in San Francisco.

The Traumatic Events that were considered

During the study, the researchers looked for women who had recently suffered one or more of the following traumatic events in their lives. Unemployment or the loss of a job, underemployment issues, household incomes less than fifty thousand dollars per year, the death of a close friend, relative, child, or spouse, serious illness, serious accidents, natural disasters that created financial hardships, other financial hardships and being the victim of physical attacks or violence.

Financial Hardships

The women who had experienced financial hardships were twice as likely to have a heart attack as the women who did not have a financial hardship in their lives.

Death of a loved one

The death of a child, life threatening illnesses that affected them or someone very close to them, being a victim of a physical attack, all increased a woman’s chance of having a heart attack by seventy percent.

The death of a spouse and accidents increased the chances of a heart attack by sixty two percent.

Stress and Heart Attacks

When you experience a traumatic life event, your stress level will increase. When you get under more stress, you have more inflammation and higher levels of cortisol. Inflammation and high cortisol levels are key factors in plaque build-up in arteries. Plaque build-up is a major reason why women have heart attacks.

What this means to doctors

The study gives doctors another way to evaluate their patients and determine their risk of heart attacks and strokes. The doctors can start to ask their patients about their lives, and life altering events that have occurred so they can understand which of their patients is at a higher risk of a heart attack.

Women can be taught how to manage the levels of stress in their lives, so they are at a lower risk of heart attack. Some of the stress management techniques include; meditation exercises, yoga, physical exercise like walking, and joining therapy sessions in groups or as individuals.

Doctors can instruct their patients on ways to reduce their stress and increase their chances of living longer.