Why men and women handle stress differently

Feb 27, 2013 by Dennis Walikainen
Men and Women and Stress
Jason Carter and Huan Yang set up a subject in their lab for stress testing.

Men and women handle stress differently. Most people probably would agree with that statement, but researchers at Michigan Technological University are pinpointing the physiological reasons behind what is, indeed, fact.

Jason Carter, chair of kinesiology and integrative physiology; math professor Tom Drummer; and graduate student Huan Yang, recently reported some surprising findings in the American Journal of Physiological, Heart and . They claim that younger women's bodies may handle stress better than 's, but that might not be true later in life.

"It is well known that men are more susceptible to high blood pressure early in life," Carter says. "However, most people are unaware that women may be more susceptible after menopause."

Carter, Drummer and Yang's work focuses on the muscle (MSNA), part of the "fight or flight" response that helps to increase heart rate and blood pressure when the body senses a need.

They tested 34 men and women during five minutes of and five minutes of rest, inserting a microelectrode needle into a nerve in the subjects' lower legs. Measurements included , blood pressure and limb blood flow.

The scientists found that during mental stress, women experienced more widening of their calf blood vessels (), and that was similar to the results of test on their forearms. Men, on the other hand, experienced no such change in the calf. This vasodilation could help the women deal with stress, Carter suggests.

However, he says, the key finding was what happened with the .

"The study found an inverse relationship between changes of calf blood flow and MSNA in men but not in women," Carter says. "In other words, men saw a potent surge of sympathetic activity associated with stress, which led to more constriction of blood vessels in the leg. We call this 'sympathetic vascular transduction,' and this study was the first to demonstrate that this transduction was more potent in young men than young women during stress."

And the big picture?

"This work is important because we know that stress takes an enormous toll on human bodies, especially the cardiovascular system," Carter says. ", increased heart rates and cardiovascular disease are all related to stress."

The research findings are also important because of one overlooked aspect.

"Traditionally, women did not play a role in neural-cardiovascular research until fairly recently," Carter says. "Today, NIH won't fund your work unless women are included, and rightly so. Women and men may not need the same types of preventative or therapeutic strategies for disease, and we won't know that if we avoid studying 50 percent of our population."

In the future, Carter would like to determine if this 'sympathetic vascular transduction' changes at menopause, a time when become a much higher risk for cardiovascular disease. He says there is evidence suggesting such changes do occur, primarily as a result of hormonal changes.

Explore further: US official: Auto safety agency under review

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mental stress may be harder on women's hearts

Apr 26, 2012

Coronary artery disease continues to be a major cause of death in the U.S., killing hundreds of thousands of people per year. However, this disease burden isn't evenly divided between the sexes; significantly more men than ...

Job stress doubles diabetes risk in women

Aug 22, 2012

Work stress doubles the risk of developing diabetes for women who have little or no control over what they do on the job, according to a new Canadian study.

Men and women respond differently to stress

Mar 23, 2010

Age and gender play a major role in how people respond to stress, according to a new study on 20-to-64-year-olds. Published in the journal Psychophysiology, the investigation was led by scientists from the Université de Mon ...

Recommended for you

US official: Auto safety agency under review

1 hour ago

Transportation officials are reviewing the "safety culture" of the U.S. agency that oversees auto recalls, a senior Obama administration official said Friday. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been criticized ...

Out-of-patience investors sell off Amazon

1 hour ago

Amazon has long acted like an ideal customer on its own website: a freewheeling big spender with no worries about balancing a checkbook. Investors confident in founder and CEO Jeff Bezos' invest-and-expand ...

Ebola.com domain sold for big payout

1 hour ago

The owners of the website Ebola.com have scored a big payday with the outbreak of the epidemic, selling the domain for more than $200,000 in cash and stock.

Hacker gets prison for cyberattack stealing $9.4M

5 hours ago

An Estonian man who pleaded guilty to orchestrating a 2008 cyberattack on a credit card processing company that enabled hackers to steal $9.4 million has been sentenced to 11 years in prison by a federal judge in Atlanta.

Magic Leap moves beyond older lines of VR

6 hours ago

Two messages from Magic Leap: Most of us know that a world with dragons and unicorns, elves and fairies is just a better world. The other message: Technology can be mindboggingly awesome. When the two ...

User comments : 0