Many of us will experience symptoms of anxiety and panic during our lives. In some people, symptoms of anxiety and panic can significantly impair their quality of life. However, as Dr. Una McCann, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, believes from her personal clinical experience, anxiety disorders can also play a major role in heart disease.
I lurched from one panic attack to another, recalls one patient suffering anxiety disorders attacks since her mid-20s. “The anxiety seemingly came from nowhere. Putting on my makeup I’d notice the increasingly unpleasant sensation of butterflies that signals an attack. My limbs would feel as if they had lost all substance. I’d become disorientated and short of breath. My lips and tongue would tingle and I would break out in a sweat. Now, at my 50, after a cardiac arrest, I live in fear that my worrying could kill me.” In fact, only 2% of people survive sudden cardiac arrest.
Studies show that anxiety disorders significantly increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease and also raise the odds of suffering a fatal cardiac event. For example, the researchers in Tilburg University (the Netherlands) combined data from 20 studies on nearly 250,000 people and found that anxiety was associated with a 26% increased risk of coronary heart disease and a 48% increased risk of heart-related death.
The second study from Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, examined data on 50,000 young Swedish men evaluated for military service between ages 18 and 20 and also found that anxiety disorders more than doubled the subsequent risk of developing coronary blockages or having a heart attack.
Anxiety is one of cardiac risk factors
When someone is anxious, their body reacts in ways that put an extra strain on their heart. Anxiety is associated with the following heart disorders and cardiac risk factors:
- Rapid heart rate (tachycardia) – In serious cases, can interfere with normal heart function and increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
- Increased blood pressure – If chronic, can lead to coronary disease, weakening of the heart muscle, and heart failure.
Decreased heart rate variability – May result in higher incidence of death after an acute heart attack.
How to prevent or reduce anxiety?
There are ways to reduce your risk and methods to control or lessen symptoms:
- Reducing cola, tea, caffeine and chocolate consumption.
- Taking vitamin C and B group vitamins – these vitamins are helpful for anxiety or panic attacks.
- Some herbs have a relaxant action that is particularly effective in treating stress and anxiety (e.g. Valerian and Passion Flower)
- Eating healthy foods.
- Keeping a regular sleep pattern.
- Avoiding alcohol
- Exercising regularly