Health anxiety may increase risk of heart disease
Worriers aren’t doing so well when it comes to their heart health, new research suggests.
A Norwegian study of more than 7,000 people over a 12 period has found that those with health anxiety at the start of the study were about 70 per cent 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.
“We hypothesised that people with health anxiety would have reduced risk because they would take better care of themselves,” said lead author Dr. Line Iden Berge.
“The results suggest it’s better, instead of worrying about what’s going on with your body and running to the doctor for any physical health problem, to seek a proper diagnosis and help for the anxiety disorder.”
For the study, researchers analysed 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 per cent 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 per cent) 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 per cent) among those who displayed health anxiety compared with those who did not (3 per cent).
After taking into account other potentially influential factors, those with health anxiety at the start of the study were found to be 73 per cent more likely to develop heart disease than those who did not have anxiety at the outset.
As it was an observational study, no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.
The research was published in the online journal BMJ Open.