Working Women Stress & Disease
Women fear dying of breast cancer—but cardiovascular disease is currently the number one cause of death for women and men in the United States. In a recent study, only 9% of women identify heart disease as the condition they fear most, even though heart disease kills twice as many women aged 45 to 64 than breast cancer.
There is no coincidence that there is a Stress epidemic and simultaneous epidemic of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)in women. Cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of women in the United States. More than one half million women die of CVD each year, exceeding the number of deaths in men and the next 7 causes of death in women combined. This translates into approximately 1 death each minute. Coronary Heart disease accounts for the majority of CVD deaths in women. Nearly two thirds of women die suddenly with no previously recognized symptoms.
The American College of Cardiology and the American heart Association recently published Evidence Based Guidelines for Cardiovascular disease Prevention in Women. Learning to regulate your stress process is critical as it interfaces with lifestyle interventions and major factor interventions; i.e. blood pressure and lipids.
Specifically Stress leads to Cardiovascular Disease via multiple pathways.
Coronary artery disease—blockage of the arteries that deliver blood to heart muscle—is the most common type of heart disease. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), 375,000 women (or 1 in 3) die of heart disease every year, 3 million have had a heart attack, and two-thirds of those who have had a heart attack do not fully recover. Black women are 69% more likely to have heart disease and are more likely to die of a heart attack before menopause.
The heart is one of the most sensitive organs to the ‘wear and tear’ associated with chronic stress and net stress load. Stress hormones make the heart beat faster, driving more blood which carries both oxygen and glucose as a part of the natural response to acute stress. This faster beating heart action increases blood pressure. Adrenal also constricts or tightens blood vessels (like squeezing a water hose) so that blood pressure is directly elevated.
Moreover, a more recently described cardiac effect of stress is the direct Effects of Adrenaline on the Heart in setting of emotional stress causing sudden heart failure (Taksobu’s Syndrome).
When we are acutely stressed, the stress response protects us is by increasing a protein in the blood called fibrinogen. This speeds up the clotting process to prepare us for combat so we will have minimal bleeding if we are injured. Remember the basic stress response (fight or flight) was evolutionary to protect us from “lions and tigers and bears”). However, hypertension is associated with increased levels of fibrinogen. Too much fibrinogen is a risk factor for increased blood clotting and a heart attack or stroke.
Atherosclerosis is the building up of fatty materials under the lining of major blood vessels of the heart and brain. They contain cholesterol and other fats. These areas of build up are called plaques. Plaques break off and clog blood vessels and serve as the sites for formation of blood clots which eventually can rupture and cause a blockage of bold flow of oxygenic the heart. When Cortisol (the second stress hormone) is elevated when we are chronically stressed excess fat is stored in the body as a response to replenishing energy stores. The excess fat is stored in blood vessels contributing to plaque formation and around your waist. This stress related pattern of pattern of deposition of fat produces obesity -the Apple shape vs. Pear body shape.
What percentage of your organization’s health care dollars or poor job performance is due to stress induced obesity, hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases?
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