Stress Matters to Women’s Hearts

May 22, 2019

Whether it’s the stress of a new mom struggling with sleepless nights or a woman caring for an elderly parent while dealing with a demanding job, stress puts women at a higher risk for heart disease. For Meghan Shook, stress was an underlying reason for her heart attack.

The 43-year-old was working as a nanny, caring for a lively 3-year-old when she began experiencing heart attack symptoms.

“First, I had pain between my shoulder blades and began sweating, then tightness in my chest and breathlessness,” Shook recalled. “After several minutes, it moved into jaw pain and finally pain in my left arm, then I knew.”

Dr. Anthony Sonn, a cardiologist at Mercy Hospital St. Louis, performed a cardiac catheterization and placed a stent in one of Shook’s arteries that was 100% blocked due to ruptured plaque. While Shook has diabetes, another high-risk factor for women and heart disease, stress was a major culprit.

“I tend to be the caregiver to everyone around me,” Shook said. “I internalize all of the issues my friends and family are going through, and I didn’t have a good way to release it.”


According to Dr. Sonn, stress can be a contributing factor. “Stress increases blood pressure and releases hormones into the blood stream that impact the way blood clots,” he said. “Those blood clots can increase the risk for heart attacks.”

Shook credits her recovery and attitude to Mercy’s cardiac rehabilitation program.

“It was a scary thought, putting stress on my heart after it had just let me down in a big way,” she said. “The first thing I learned at rehab was I could trust my body again, if I was willing to make some changes. I didn’t have to hurt after exercising.”

Shook soon realized she could get a good workout without pushing herself too hard. She was encouraged to stretch her physical limits without going overboard or giving up.

“After eight weeks, I asked if I could try running on a treadmill,” Shook laughed. “I was not a runner, so I questioned my sanity, but when I lasted five minutes it felt like I conquered the world. I was hooked.”

Two years later, Shook is still running.

“Running is my stress reliever,” said Shook, who recently ran a 10K on the second anniversary of her heart attack.