Stress and a woman's heart

February 19, 2015 Providence Health Team


In this article:

  • Stress caused by work can have serious effects on your heart health.

  • Heart disease in women is still underdiagnosed.

  • Providence cardiologist Gerrie Gardner, D.O., talks about why women need to take their cardiac health seriously, including following their doctor’s recommendations about standard screenings and tests like EKGs.

This article features Gerrie Gardner, DO, a Cardiologist at Providence Medical Group.

Dara Parker knew her job was getting to her. But she didn't foresee the real impact it was having on her health.

“I worked in the claims department for an insurance company,” the 49-year-old Mill Creek resident says. “I ended up handling a lot of death claims and working a lot of hours. I tend to be an emotional person – it affected me. I remember sitting at my desk, my heart racing, feeling this huge anxiety.”

It got to be too much. Dara quit her job, with no new job lined up. “I don’t walk away from anything,” Dara says. “I felt like a failure when I quit.”

But leaving may have been a lifesaving decision. The stress from that job was likely a major contributor to a serious heart problem Dara didn’t even know she had.

Stress that kills

Stress cardiomyopathy is a condition in which intense emotional or physical stress can cause severe heart muscle weakness (cardiomyopathy). This can occur after an emotional stressor such as grief, fear, extreme anger, or – as in Dara’s case – ongoing, intense stress from work.

After Dara left her job, she mentioned to her doctor at a routine appointment that she’d never had an EKG. “I thought maybe I should get one – just as a baseline. My doctor agreed, so we did it.”

The results brought a shock. Dara had a “left bundle branch block,” a pattern that results when normal activity in the heart’s electrical pathways is interrupted. It typically occurs in patients with underlying heart disease. Dara’s Providence primary care provider sent her to see Dr. Gerrie Gardner right away.

Treatment options

Gerrie Gardner, D.O., is a board-certified cardiologist at Providence Medical Group and an advocate for women’s heart health.

“So many studies show us that heart disease in women remains underdiagnosed and undertreated,” Dr. Gardner says. “Women’s heart symptoms are just different from men’s. The symptoms can seem very innocent, so women don’t take them seriously or act
quickly enough.”

This was true for Dara. She had heart disease, but not one of the classic symptoms.

Dara asked Dr. Gardner to give it to her straight. “As it turned out, I had Stage 2 congestive heart failure,” Dara says. “It looked like I was going to need to have a defibrillator implanted. I was completely stunned. I’m not even 50.”

They discussed all the different treatment options. “Dr. Gardner made me an active part in the decision process. I wanted to first try medication and lifestyle changes, and she supported that.”

Dara wanted to make every attempt to avoid the defibrillator, so she tolerated unpleasant side effects from her medication. She started exercising and gave up wine, which she enjoys. And each time she went in to see Dr. Gardner, the
echocardiogram showed improvement.

Eventually, her persistence and dedication paid off. Today Dara’s heart function is almost normal. The defibrillator wasn't needed. She has a new job that she loves, less stress and more happiness.

“Why did I ask for that first EKG? Was it divine intervention?” Dara wonders. “All I know is, if I hadn’t asked for that test, and my doctor hadn’t stopped and listened to me, I don’t know where I’d be today.” 


Find a doctor

Have questions about the health of your heart?  The Providence cardiac team can help. Find a doctor today in our provider directory. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services. 

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.


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