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Long-term Anxiety Ups Heart Attack Risk

manIt is well known that individuals with a Type A personality are at higher risk for a heart attack. Now, new research suggests individuals that are more socially withdrawn may also have reason to worry.

The findings, published in the January 15, 2008, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), shows that longstanding anxiety markedly increases the risk of heart attack, even when other common risk factors are taken into account.

“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,” said Biing-Jiun Shen, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

The role of anxiety in hiking heart attack risk also goes beyond the effects of depression, anger, hostility, Type A behavior and other negative emotions. “These psychological factors are important in predicting the risk of heart disease, but anxiety is unique,” Dr. Shen said.

“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.”

For the study, Dr. Shen and his colleagues analyzed data from the Normative Aging Study, which was designed to assess medical and psychological changes associated with aging among a group of initially healthy men. Each of the 735 men participating in the new analysis completed psychological testing in 1986 and was in good cardiovascular health at the time.

Although most people think of anxiety as intense worry, Dr. Shen and his colleagues looked much deeper, examining four different measures of anxiety. The first anxiety scale measured psychasthenia, or excessive doubts, obsessive thoughts and irrational compulsions.

The second anxiety scale measured social introversion, or anxiety, insecurity, and discomfort in interpersonal and social situations. The third anxiety scale measured phobias, or excessive anxieties or fears about animals, situations or objects. The fourth anxiety scale, manifest anxiety, measured the tendency to experience tension and physical arousal in stressful situations.

Separate sections of the psychological test measured hostility, anger, Type A behavior, depression, and negative emotions. Study participants also completed questionnaires about health habits such as smoking, alcohol consumption and daily diet, and had a medical exam every three years over a follow-up period that averaged more than 12 years.

The investigators found that men 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 percent.

Those who were found to have even higher levels of anxiety on psychological testing faced an even higher risk of heart attack. This finding held true even after the findings were adjusted for standard cardiovascular risk factors, health habits, and negative psychological and personality traits.

“The good thing about anxiety is that it’s very treatable,” said Dr. Shen. “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.”

Dr. Shen said the new research does not address the role of anxiety in provoking heart attacks in women. He and his colleagues are considering such a study in the future.

Source: American College of Cardiology

Long-term Anxiety Ups Heart Attack Risk

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Long-term Anxiety Ups Heart Attack Risk. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 20, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2008/01/08/long-term-anxiety-ups-heart-attack-risk/1754.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
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