A new study reveals that women and men have different psychological and cardiovascular responses towards mental stress.

Scientists have agreed upon the relation between cardiovascular health and mental stress. However, Zainab Samad, assistant professor of medicine at the Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, who is also the lead researcher of the study, suggests that mental and physical stress can affect women and men differently with stable heart issues.

The study involved 310 participants who had ischemic heart disease. More than 80 percent of the participants were men and the rest were women. All the participants were also registered in a bigger Responses of Mental Stress-Induced Myocardial Ischemia to Escitalopram (REMIT) study to understand the effect of escitalopram, an antidepressant medicine, on heart disease prompted by mental stress.

Each of the participants underwent a baseline testing and then all of them were asked to complete three tasks deemed to be mentally stressful, which included: an arithmetic test, anger recall test and a mirror tracing test. After completing the mental tests, the participants were also asked to finish a treadmill test.

The researchers also conducted echocardiography in between the rest periods as well as during the mental stress tasks. The researchers also took samples of blood from the participants and monitored their heart rate and blood pressure.

The study found that men experienced additional changes in their heart rate and blood pressure due to the mental stress caused by the mental tasks when compared to women. However, more women had decreased flow of blood to the heart known as myocardial ischemia. The study also reveals that women also had amplified platelet aggregation, the start of blood clot formation when compared to men.

The researchers also found that women expressed decrease in positive emotions and an increase in negative feelings while performing the mental tasks in comparison to men.

"This study also underscores the inadequacy of available risk prediction tools, which currently fail to measure an entire facet of risk, i.e. the impact of negative physiological responses to psychological stress in both sexes, and especially so among women," says Samad.

The study also suggests that further studies are needed to understand the association of heart responses and mental stress better in women and men, as well as its long term implications.

The study has been published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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