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Anxiety And Heart Attacks

February 2008 - Research from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has found that longstanding anxiety significantly increases the risk of heart attack in men, even when other common risk factors are taken into account.

Biing-Jiun Shen, an assistant professor of psychology said:

"What we're seeing is over and beyond what can be explained by blood pressure, obesity, cholesterol, age, cigarette smoking, blood sugar levels and other cardiovascular risk factors. These psychological factors are important in predicting the risk of heart disease, but anxiety is unique. Older men with sustained and pervasive anxiety appear to be at increased risk for a heart attack even after their levels of depression, anger, hostility and Type A behavior are considered."

Researchers analyzed data from 735 participants in the Normative Aging Study, designed to assess medical and psychological changes associated with aging among a group of initially healthy men. Each completed initial assessment in 1986 and was in good cardiovascular health at the time. Participants were followed up every three years for an average of 12 years.

In the current study researchers tested four measures of anxiety:

  • Psychasthenia - excessive doubts, obsessive thoughts and irrational compulsions;
  • Social introversion - anxiety, insecurity, and discomfort in interpersonal and social situations;
  • Phobias - excessive anxieties or fears about animals, situations or objects; and
  • Manifest anxiety - the tendency to experience tension and physical arousal in stressful situations.

Hostility, anger, Type A behavior, depression, and negative emotions were tested separately. Participants also completed questionnaires about health habits such as smoking, alcohol consumption and diet. Researchers found that those who tested at the highest 15th percentile on any of the four anxiety scales, as well as on a scale combining all four, faced an increase in the risk of heart attack of approximately 30 to 40 per cent. Those with higher levels of anxiety faced an even higher risk. This held true after adjusting for standard cardiovascular risk factors, health habits, and negative psychological and personality traits. Further research is needed to compare these findings in women.

Biing-Jiun Shen commented:

"The good thing about anxiety is that it's very treatable. If someone is highly anxious-if they're suffering from panic attacks or social phobia or constant worry-we recommend therapy. Although more research is needed, we hope that by reducing anxiety, we can lower the future risk of heart attack. This is one more reason to seek help."

Anxiety disorder treatment options for individuals seeking helping.

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