Heart Care: Anxiety Disorders May Increase Heart Attack and Stroke Risk

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Podcast: Heart Care September 2010

Welcome to this month’s Heart Care podcast. Our topic is “Anxiety Disorders May Increase Heart Attack and Stroke Risk.”
Anxiety disorders may increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and death in people with heart disease.
Very few studies have looked at the role of anxiety, even though researchers have more often studied depression in patients with coronary heart disease.
Many factors may account for the increase in risk linked with anxiety, says study author Dr. Elisabeth Martens.
Anywhere from 24 to 31 percent of patients with heart disease also have symptoms of anxiety, Dr. Martens notes.
Anxiety may be linked with surges in "fight or flight" hormones that may be related to heart risks.
Or it may be that people with anxiety are more likely to seek medical care when they have symptoms of a cardiovascular event – but this wouldn’t explain the higher rates of death.
The research included over 1,000 people with stable coronary heart disease who were assessed for anxiety disorder at the start of the study. The study participants were followed for an average of nearly six years.
During that time, there were just over 370 cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks or other events that may cause damage to the heart.
After looking at a number of factors, generalized anxiety disorder was linked with a 74 percent increased risk of heart and vascular events.
Dr. Martens says that evaluation and treatment of anxiety may now be considered as part of the way doctors work with patients with coronary heart disease.
The study on anxiety was reported in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.
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