The link between depression and heart disease is well known, and a study illustrates how having generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) greatly ups your risk of having a heart-related event. In this prospective study, researchers assessed 1,015 people with stable coronary heart disease for symptoms of anxiety.

After an average follow-up time of six years, 371 cardiovascular events occurred, including stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and death. The yearly rate of these events was almost 10 percent in the 106 study participants with GAD and nearly 7 percent in the 909 without it. After adjusting for other factors, the researchers calculated a 74 percent increased risk of cardiovascular events for those with GAD.

Experts suspect that anxiety causes a surge in "fight or flight" hormones called catecholamines, which are also associated with heart disease. People with anxiety may also be more prone than individuals without anxiety to seek care for heart-related symptoms and receive a diagnosis of a stroke or heart attack.

More research should be done to determine the precise way GAD contributes to heart disease so that effective strategies can be recommended to prevent associated heart problems.

Source: Archives of General Psychiatry, Volume 67, page 750, July 2010

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 21 Aug 2013

Last Modified: 07 Oct 2014