If you’re female and often feel hopeless, you could be at risk for a stroke. Chronically pessimistic women’s neck arteries appear to have more plaque buildup––which may trigger a stroke, according to new research reported by Reuters.

For the study, researchers measured hopelessness in 559 heart-healthy women (average age 50). Afterward, their neck artery thickness was measured through ultrasound image.  

What’d they find?

“Those women who reported feeling hopeless about the future or personal goals had more thickening in the neck arteries [indicating] more atherosclerosis,” said Susan Everson-Rose, PhD, MPH, of the University of Minnesota Medical School. Thickening of the arteries is a predictor of stroke and heart attack.

This study is the first linking hopelessness to a healthy woman’s risk for stroke. Previous heart disease studies examined the influence of depression and optimism on heart disease.

Additional study is needed. In the meantime, Everson-Rose advised women to be aware of the physical consequences of hopelessness—and to seek help for these feelings.

Learn how protect yourself from stroke here