Open Access Research article

Sex differences in the combined effect of chronic stress with impaired vascular endothelium functioning and the development of early atherosclerosis: The Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns study

Nadja Chumaeva12, Mirka Hintsanen1*, Markus Juonala34, Olli T Raitakari35 and Liisa Keltikangas-Järvinen1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Behavioral Sciences, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 9, 00014 Helsinki, Finland

2 Division of Medical Problems of Cell Biology, Institute of Cell Biophysics, Institutional Street 3, Pushchino, Moscow region 142290, Russia

3 Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Turku, Kiinanmyllynkatu 10, 20520 Turku, Finland

4 Department of Medicine, University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, P.O. Box 52, 20521 Turku, Finland

5 Department of Clinical Physiology, University of Turku, P.O. Box 52, 20521 Turku, Finland

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BMC Cardiovascular Disorders 2010, 10:34  doi:10.1186/1471-2261-10-34

Published: 12 July 2010



The syndrome of vital exhaustion (VE), characterized by fatigue and irritability, may contribute to an increased risk of atherosclerosis. The aim of the study was to explore sex differences in the interactions of VE with endothelial dysfunction and VE with reduced carotid elasticity, the important contributors to the development of early atherosclerosis, on preclinical atherosclerosis.


The participants were 1002 women and 719 men aged 24-39 examined in the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns study. Vital exhaustion was measured using the Maastricht Questionnaire. Preclinical atherosclerosis was assessed by carotid intima-media thickness (IMT), endothelial function was measured by brachial flow-mediated dilatation (FMD), and arterial elasticity by carotid artery compliance (CAC) using ultrasound techniques.


We found a significant CAC x VE interaction for IMT only for the men. Our results imply that high VE level significantly related to high IMT levels among the men with low CAC, but not among the women with low CAC or among the women or men with high CAC. No significant FMD x VE interactions for IMT for the women or men were found.


High VE may exert an effect on IMT for men with impaired arterial elasticity. The results suggest that high vitally exhausted men with reduced arterial elasticity are at increased risk of atherosclerosis in early life and imply men's decreased stress coping in relation to stressful psychological coronary risk factors.