Wor­ried well ‘might boost heart risk’

Malta Independent - - HEALTH -

Be­ing one of the “wor­ried well” might ac­tu­ally in­crease heart-dis­ease risk, a study has sug­gested.

Nor­we­gian re­searchers looked at health anx­i­ety lev­els in 7,000 peo­ple who were fol­lowed for at least a decade.

The BMJ Open pa­per sug­gests that, while gen­eral anx­i­ety is al­ready recog­nised as a risk, health anx­i­ety might also be an is­sue.

Heart ex­perts said any­one who felt they were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ‘health anx­i­ety’ should speak to their doc­tor.

Health anx­i­ety de­scribes when peo­ple have a “per­sis­tent pre­oc­cu­pa­tion” with hav­ing or ac­quir­ing a se­ri­ous ill­ness, and seek­ing prompt med­i­cal ad­vice, with­out any symp­toms of an ac­tual dis­ease.

Par­tic­i­pants in this study were tak­ing part in the Nor­we­gian Horda­land Health Study.

All were born be­tween 1953 and 1957.

They com­pleted ques­tion­naires about health, life­style, and ed­u­ca­tion and had blood tests, and their weight, height, and blood pres­sure mea­sured reg­u­larly be­tween 1997 and 1999.

They used a recog­nised scale called the White­ley In­dex to as­sess anx­i­ety lev­els.

The re­searchers also used na­tional data to track hos­pi­tal treat­ment and deaths in the group up to 2009.

And of the 7,000, 234 (3.3%) had a heart at­tack or bout of acute angina dur­ing the mon­i­tor­ing pe­riod.

Even after known risk fac­tors were taken into ac­count, the pro­por­tion of those suc­cumb­ing to heart dis­ease (just over 6%) was more than twice as high among the 710 con­sid­ered to have health anx­i­ety.

And the higher their anx­i­ety score, the greater the risk of de­vel­op­ing heart dis­ease.

Writ­ing in BMJ Open, the re­searchers, led by Dr Line Iden Berge, said: “[Our re­search] fur­ther in­di­cates that char­ac­ter­is­tic be­hav­iour among per­sons with health anx­i­ety, such as mon­i­tor­ing and fre­quent check-ups of symp­toms, does not re­duce the risk of [coro­nary heart dis­ease] events.

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

Emily Reeve, a 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.

“While we don’t know if the ‘wor­ried well’ are di­rectly putting them­selves at risk of a heart at­tack, it’s clear that re­duc­ing un­nec­es­sary anx­i­ety can have health ben­e­fits.

“If you are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing health anx­i­ety, speak to your doc­tor.”

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