As COVID-19 reminded us, a disease has causes and effects that are biological, psychological and social. Many studies have shown that psychosocial factors are a significant factor in the progression of heart attacks in young women. Psychosocial stress ranks in third place among the risk factors for heart attack behind tobacco use and high cholesterol. In addition, 20% of heart attack victims show signs of post-traumatic stress.
Women are on the front lines when it comes to managing psychosocial stress. Their family and professional obligations are always expanding. They often manage things alone, responsible for educating children while earning lower salaries than men. Many women are in vulnerable social situations that are becoming more pronounced with COVID. The stress from their daily lives and the future is having a major impact on their diets, tobacco use and physical activity levels.
Due to anatomical and biological specificities, women react in particular ways to acute stress which increases their risk for heart attacks even when their coronary arteries have minimal or no damage. For young women, a heart attack is a very destabilizing event socially and psychologically. The cardiac incident feels like an injustice, a loss of opportunities in life. They didn’t think it could happen to them and have a hard time understanding why it did. Many of them have significant after-effects including physical disability that is sometimes severe yet invisible to others. The stress caused by this disease doubles the risk that a cardiac event will reoccur, particularly since the majority of them don’t go to cardiac rehabilitation which would give them the time and tools to deal with the stress of the experience better.
Protecting women’s hearts by helping them reduce their stress, supporting them while they deal with cardiovascular disease and promoting their well-being are essential components of Women’s Cardiovascular Healthcare Foundation’s chosen mission, which has three components: alert people about the harmful effects of stress on the heart and arteries, anticipate issues by supporting women, especially those who are most vulnerable, in their gynecardiology care pathway, and act by teaching them how to manage stress (cardiac coherence, mindfulness meditation, supervised physical activity) and encouraging them to get help from professional stress management experts, if necessary.
To learn more,
read Dr. Jean-Pierre Houppe’s book (available in French), Le Cœur du Bonheur: J’ai Choisi d'Être Heureux pour Éviter l’Infarctus! Published by Editions Dunod in May 2019.