The Connection Between Anxiety & Heart Health

A little bit of stress and worry is normal and can even be beneficial, but a large amount of anxiety may increase your risk for heart disease. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting approximately 40 million Americans over the age of 18. Anxiety is an extremely useful emotion that signals the brain of threatening situations; however, too much can become problematic and can impede on heart health. Educate yourself and others on the symptoms, treatments and links between anxiety and heart health to increase awareness and take necessary measures to keep your heart healthy.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder
People experiencing anxiety often find themselves with feelings of restlessness, excessive fear, dread, worry, clammy hands, heart palpitations, and difficulty paying attention, remembering and learning. Studies show a connection to the brain chemicals norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter that manages concentration, and serotonin, which is related to the feelings of anxiety, depression and aggression. Someone is more likely to get anxiety if it’s part of their family history or if they are exposed to stressful situations over an extended period. To function normally, we all must experience some amounts of anxiety, but you should visit a healthcare professional if:

  • Physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, nausea, or difficulty concentrating are excessively present
  • Your anxiety interferes with your work and relationships
  • Your anxiety lasts more than six months

Anxiety & Heart Health
There is growing evidence of the strong connection between anxiety and heart disease. Research shows that people who have anxiety disorders suffer higher rates of heart attack and other cardiac events. This connection is more pronounced in people who are already diagnosed with heart disease, and the risk increases with the intensity and frequency of anxiety symptoms. Constant anxiety has also been shown to negatively affect the cardiovascular system. Changing the body’s stress response, anxiety can create unexpected shifts in physiological reactions that can trigger high blood pressure, heart rhythm disturbances or heart attack. Abnormal stress responses can also promote inflammation, damaging the artery linings and allowing for a buildup of coronary plaque. Having heart problems or being diagnosed with heart issues can also raise a person’s baseline anxiety, prompting the same effects.

A combination of psychotherapy and medications are often used to treat generalized anxiety disorders. Therapy teaches specific skills to help cope with and manage anxiety while prescriptions such as benzodiazepines, citalopram, fluoxetine, sertraline and imipramine can also aid with relief. When seeking medication for anxiety, be sure to discuss your cardiovascular condition with your doctor.