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If you’re a woman with a healthy cholesterol profile and clear arteries, there’s still a common event you better avoid that can threaten your heart and your life. It’s a condition that can kill within minutes.
Researchers have found that for women, becoming emotionally distraught and angry can set off a reaction in the nervous system that triggers a heart attack.
Because the anger closes down blood vessels that feed the heart, the researchers note, chest pain due to heart muscles starved for oxygen can occur even when the arteries look healthy.
“Women who go to emergency rooms and cardiologists because they have chest pain often are told that their arteries are clear and their hearts are fine. But the reality is that women’s coronary artery disease tends to be different from men’s. In women, the large arteries may remain clear but the smaller branches that connect to the even-smaller capillaries lose their ability to widen. Whether the large arteries are blocked or the small arterioles don’t function correctly, the result is the same — the heart becomes starved for oxygen,” says researcher C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., professor of medicine and medical director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center.
Research into these heart attacks shows that reactions in the nervous system can cut off blood to the heart muscle.
“We know that women who have chest pain and reduced oxygen to the heart — in the absence of ‘male-pattern’ obstructive coronary artery disease — may experience microvascular dysfunction during times of emotional distress even though their heart rates stay relatively low. In this study, we evaluated the heart’s autonomic system — the nerve network that regulates heart rate,” says researcher Puja K. Mehta, M.D., director of the Non-Invasive Vascular Function Research Lab at the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center.