Women may be more likely to suffer heart problems after emotional upsets, according to a new study that revealed that during periods of mental stress increases, blood flow to the heart increases in men but remains unchanged in women.

Researchers said that the latest findings, presented this week at the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego, California, suggest women are more at risk for heart trouble when under stress, compared to men.

Researchers measured the blood pressures and heart rates of 17 healthy men and women when at rest and when participating in a mentally stressful activity. Researchers also used ultrasound scans to measure blood flow through the men and women’s coronary blood vessels that circulate blood to the heart.

Researchers asked participants to do a series of math problems in which subjects had to sequentially subtract seven from a random number. To increase participants’ stress levels, researchers constantly urged them to hurry up or purposely told them they got the wrong answer when participants gave the right answer.

The findings show that at rest, the male and female participants showed little difference between blood pressure, heart rates and heart blood flow, and during the math task, all participants exhibited an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

However, men showed an increase in coronary blood flow and women did not under the stressful condition.

Study author Chester Ray, a professor of medicine at Penn State College of Medicine said that the recent findings suggest that this difference in coronary blood flow could potentially make women more inclined to heart troubles during periods of stress.

Ray said that the findings are surprising because previous research showed that men have significantly reduced heart blood flow than women during the physical stress of exercise.

Researchers said that the results highlight the importance of mental stress on physical health, and could explain why the broken heart syndrome, or when the heart muscle is temporarily weakened after stressful events like losing a spouse, occurs almost exclusively in women.

"Stress reduction is important for anyone, regardless of gender," Ray said in a statement. "But this study shines a light on how stress differently affects the hearts of women, potentially putting them at greater risk of a coronary event."

Researchers say that more research into the mechanism behind this gender difference in the body’s response to stress could lead to more targeted treatments and better prevention efforts for women more likely to have coronary artery disease.