By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
According to a new report published in the acclaimed journal Archives of General Psychiatry, concomitant anxiety and other psychiatric illnesses in heart patients raise their risk of getting heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and early death.
The researchers came to this conclusion after studying more than 1,000 people with heart disease. There is a 74% increased risk of cardiovascular events in those with an anxiety disorder they write. British experts believe more studies are needed to explore the possible association between psychiatric ailments and heart disease.
These researchers from Tilburg University in the Netherlands studied the patient cohort for an average of five and a half years. They found:
- Yearly rate of cardiovascular events was 9.6% in the 106 patients who suffered from a general anxiety disorder.
- In the 909 patients without an anxiety disorder, the rate was 6.6%.
- 24% to 31% of heart disease patients also had symptoms of anxiety
The actual reason for this association is not yet clear say researchers but it could be that patients with anxiety are more likely to go and see their doctor when they have symptoms and therefore are more likely to receive a diagnosis of stroke or heart attack. On the flip side higher anxiety levels may also prevent patients from visiting their specialists and then be at increased risk of cardiovascular problems.
According to Dr Elisabeth Martens, expert in neuropsychology at Tilburg University and lead author, “Evaluation and treatment of anxiety may also be considered as part of the comprehensive management of patients with coronary heart disease.” Judy O'Sullivan, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation explained that, “We know that people with heart disease are often anxious about their future and about how their lives, and the lives of those closest to them, will be affected by the disease… Now we need to spend more time and money understanding the links between poor mental health and heart disease.”