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Stress Increases Women's Heart Disease Risk

March 22, 2012, 6:07 PM by Casey Wonnenberg

Stress Increases Women's Heart Disease Risk

Women can have a lot going on these days. And if there's not enough to stress about, research suggests women with demanding jobs are nearly twice as likely to suffer from heart disease.

While Denise Leat is not leading the conversation about infection control and prevention, the Chamberlain nursing manager has encountered a lot of stress in her 35 years in the health care profession.

"I'm kind of a perfectionist, and I don't like things to go wrong. I don't like to make mistakes," Leat said.

When she was presenting at a meeting, herself, a couple years ago, Leat started suffering chest and shoulder pain. Doctors diagnosed her with stress induced cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle because of stress, which can even be deadly.

"It's important to know really how much of a part stress plays in your life with heart health," Leat said.

And Leat is not alone. Working women, especially those in high-stress jobs, are at a greater risk of developing heart problems.

"It can lead to coronary artery disease, specifically in people who have Type A personalities; it can lead to heart attacks," Sanford Cardiologist Dr. Maria Stys said.

Stys says women are also more prone than men to stress-induced heart problems. She says more research is needed.  But apparently women's hearts are more sensitive to stress hormones.

"If anything in our life produces major stress, which impacts loved ones, the family around us, we have to stop and think about it. Of course it will get back to us," Stys said.

Stys says there are a few things, people such as Leat can do to control stress, including finding a hobby, eating healthy and exercising.

"If people are more stressed because of their job and can't cope with it, there's always a road to ask for help and go to a doctor or pep coach to know how to introduce stress management steps," Stys said.

They're steps Leat is working toward along with a few of her own.

"Take deep breaths, learn to relax a little bit, and not get so worked up about not being perfect," Leat said.

Because being perfect is not only impossible, but also sometimes heart-breaking.

Research also shows that working more than 40 hours a week can cause heart problems. Stys says that's because people who work more, don't have as much time to exercise, eat appropriately, and focus on stress reducers.

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