People with health anxiety more likely to suffer from heart diseases

November 4, 2016

Those who worry too much about their health have a higher risk of developing heart diseases, according to a new study in Norway.

A nationwide cardiovascular research project was conducted in Norway where researchers analyzed data from over 7,000 Norwegians who did not have any heart disease prior to the study. Over the next 12 years, their heart health was tracked during which around 700 volunteers reported a high degree of health anxiety.

Health anxiety, also known as hypochondria, is a condition wherein a person has an excessive fear or worry about having a serious illness to the point where it causes great distress on a person’s daily life.

Although only 6% of the participants with high health anxiety were diagnosed with coronary artery disease after the first year of the study, that figure is still double the rate of the general population.

Even after accounting for other known risk factors, people with health anxiety were still 70% more likely to someday develop heart diseases than those who are not worried about their health. The study also found that the higher the level of health anxiety, the greater the risk of heart disease there is, which adds more support to a direct link.

“This finding corroborates and extends the understanding of anxiety in various forms as a risk factor for [coronary artery disease],” the authors concluded.

Other studies also show that anxiety disorders in general can contribute in triggering or worsening cardiovascular diseases, along with improper diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and lack of exercise. But relatively little if no research has specifically looked at health anxiety, the authors said.

Health anxiety may also have indirect links to increased risk of heart disease as people with health anxiety were also more likely to smoke and spend less time exercising.

The researchers speculate that the added stress may lead people to seek out sin sticks, while the fear of straining their presumably frail bodies keeps them away from the gym.

Although the connection between health anxiety and heart health seems fairly strong, the research is less clear on what doctors and worried patients should do about it, especially since anxiety attacks can often look and feel just like a heart attack.

Telling these particular patients to stay on guard for heart disease signs may only worsen their anxiety.

“These findings illustrate the dilemma for clinicians between reassuring the patient that current physical symptoms of anxiety do not represent heart disease,” the authors wrote, “contrasted against the emerging knowledge on how anxiety, over time, may be causally associated with increased risk of [heart disease].”

Perhaps the best solution might involve a compromise between doctors and patients, they added. Such that doctors encourage patients to seek treatment for their health-related anxiety while still reaffirming the role anxiety can play in their physical health.

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Category: Features, Health alert

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