People with excessive worry about their health are more vulnerable to cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in the journal BMJ Open. Previous research has found a correlation between anxiety and heart disease. A 2010 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, for example, found a 48% increase in the risk of death to heart disease among people with anxiety.
Health Anxiety and Heart Disease
Researchers pulled data from the Norwegian Hordaland Health Study (HUSK), a long-term project that screened 7,052 participants for 12 years. Participants were born between 1953 and 1957, and they underwent health screenings between 1997 and 1999. The screenings included anxiety surveys using the Whiteley Index, as well as blood tests and height, weight, and blood pressure assessments.
During the study, 234 participants (3.3% of the total) had acute chest pain or a heart attack during the study. High levels of health anxiety were correlated with more cardiovascular disease. About 6% of people with health anxiety had cardiovascular health problems, compared to 3% without health anxiety. Overall, anxiety about health increased the risk of heart disease by 73%.
Higher levels of anxiety correlated with higher risk, suggesting increased anxiety may also increase cardiovascular health problems. Women are slightly more vulnerable to anxiety-related heart disease than men.
Anxiety a Common Mental Health Condition
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 40 million adults—18% of the population—experience clinically significant anxiety each year. Anxiety diagnoses such as generalized anxiety, hypochondria, and obsessive compulsion are among the most common mental health conditions.
The study’s authors highlight the need for rapid identification and treatment of health-related anxiety.
- Any anxiety disorder among adults. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml
- Berge, L. I., Skogen, J. C., Sulo, G., Igland, J., Wilhelmsen, I., Vollset, S. E., . . . Knudsen, A. K. (2016). Health anxiety and risk of ischaemic heart disease: A prospective cohort study linking the Hordaland Health Study (HUSK) with the Cardiovascular Diseases in Norway (CVDNOR) project. BMJ Open,6(11). doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012914
- Roest, A. M., Martens, E. J., Jonge, P. D., & Denollet, J. (2010). Anxiety and risk of incident coronary heart disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology,56(1), 38-46. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2010.03.034
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