Heart attacks, many studies have shown, have a higher incidence rate among people with a generalised anxiety disorder.
Ask any mental health professional and they’ll tell you that a little bit of worry or stress is not necessarily bad for you. Low levels of stress can help you stay on your toes with everything from work deadlines to fitness goals, and can definitely boost productivity. But if this stress turns chronic, or transforms into an anxiety disorder or depression, then you may have a huge problem on your hands and it won’t have to do just with your mental health.
How anxiety and heart disease are linked
Many studies have pointed out over the years that anxiety has an intrinsic link with heart diseases. According to Harvard Health Publishing, suffering from chronic anxiety can change your body’s stress response mechanisms, or what is more popularly known as fight or flight response. Those with anxiety disorders tend to have ups and downs which can affect their blood pressure, cortisol levels and also cause heart rhythm disorders or arrhythmias. An increase in such factors can, in turn, increase the risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
Heart attacks, many studies have shown, have a higher incidence rate among people with a generalised anxiety disorder. On the other hand, symptoms of panic attacks — which are isolated incidences in those with an anxiety disorder — mimic those of a heart attack, indicating that the stress levels on the body are similar in both these conditions. In fact, as a study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes in 2016 indicates, anxiety symptoms can often mask the symptoms of a heart attack in women, but not in men. The same study also indicated that women with anxiety disorders have a much higher rate of suffering from heart attacks than women without them.
Anxiety and heart attack risks in teens
New research presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2020 indicates that this link between anxiety and higher incidence or risks of heart attacks is not necessarily limited to adults. In fact, the study showed that men who suffered from depression or chronic anxiety in adolescence had a 20% higher chance of getting a heart attack by the time they hit midlife.
This study tracked the health status of 238,013 men born between 1952 and 1956 (their current ages would be 64-68 years) who had undergone compulsory military service in late adolescence. Extensive medical, physical and psychological health assessments are part and parcel of military service, and in the case of these subjects, such health examinations were followed up until they were middle-aged or about 58 years old.
Of these participants, 34,503 were diagnosed with non-psychotic mental disorders like anxiety and depression when they were 18-19 years old — or at the time of their conscription in military service. Even after taking blood pressure, body mass index, general health and parental socioeconomic conditions into account, it was found that these 34,503 participants had a 20 percent higher risk of suffering from a myocardial infarction or heart attack by the time they reached midlife.
This study highlights the importance of parents taking the signs of depression and anxiety in teenagers seriously. Timely diagnosis and proper treatment of these mental health issues can reduce the risks of heart disease and heart attacks later in life.
For more information, read our article on Anxiety.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.