What the head tells us about the heart

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Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD:
What the head tells us about the heart

What’s in your head may be as important as what’s in your heart when it comes to cardiac disease. So, researchers are looking at the role psychological stress plays in heart attacks—especially in women. Women are more likely to die after a heart attack than are men.

Epidemiologist Viola Vaccarino and her colleagues are trying to find out why. Currently, the researchers are focusing on one common psychological factor—depression. That’s because depression appears to be a risk factor for people with heart disease, both for people without initial heart disease as well as in cardiac patients. In fact, research has shown that depression is remarkably more common among women under 60 compared with men, a group that clearly fares worse than men after a heart attack.

When Vaccarino began studying cardiac disease two decades ago, few women were included in cardiac clinical trials, which may have a bearing on how women fair when it comes to cardiovascular disease. Now, more women are getting to take part in these trials but a gap still remains.

To hear Vaccarino’s own words about psychological stress and heart disease, use the player at the top of this page or subscribe to the podcast.