Research

Health Anxiety May Increase Heart Disease

November 4
6:00 AM 2016

Fit and healthy people who worry too much about their health can increase their risk of getting a heart disease according to studies.

A study of more than 7,000 people over 12 years found that those with health anxiety at the start of the study were about 70% more likely to develop heart disease than those without that state of mind. Additionally, the researchers found that the higher the reported anxiety, the higher the risk of heart disease.

Anxiety is a known risk factor for heart disease but the Norwegian authors of the paper believe it is the first to look specifically at health anxiety, which is characterized by a persistent preoccupation with having or acquiring a serious illness and seeking medical help, despite the absence of any physical disease.

The study analyzed 7,052 participants in the long-term collaborative research project Norwegian Hordaland health study, all of whom were born between 1953 and 1957.

Levels of health anxiety were assessed using a validated scale and the top 10% of the sample - 710 people - were considered to have health anxiety.

The heart health of all the participants was tracked up to the end of 2009. Anyone who received treatment for, or whose death was linked to, coronary artery disease occurring within a year of entering the study, was excluded on the grounds that they might already have been ill.

In all, 234 (3.3%) of the entire sample had an ischaemic event - a heart attack or bout of acute angina - during the monitoring period. But the proportion of those succumbing to heart disease was twice as high (just over 6%) among those who displayed health anxiety compared with those who did not (3%).

Emily Reeve, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "It's natural for people to worry if they feel they might be unwell. But anxiety and stress can trigger unhealthy habits, such as smoking or eating badly, which put you at greater risk of heart disease.

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