Phobias Linked to Fatal Heart DiseaseFebruary 2, 2005
(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Having a phobia may increase your likelihood of developing fatal heart disease. A new study shows this is true for women with phobic anxieties including the fear of crowded places, heights or going outside.
Other studies have suggested psychosocial factors such as emotions, anxiety and anger are associated with an increased risk of fatal heart disease. Studies in men suggest anxiety, specifically phobic anxiety, is related to sudden cardiac death, which is death that occurs within one hour of symptom onset.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston studied women to determine if there was a relationship similar to that observed in men. They analyzed data from the Nurses' Health Study, a large survey about heart disease risk factors, menopausal status, and lifestyle factors that has polled nurses every two years since 1976. In 1988, study authors surveyed more than 70,000 women who had no history of heart disease or phobic anxieties. They set out to uncover any possible phobias the patients had. The women's level of anxiety was classified into four groups of scores from zero to four and higher based on their answers.
The Harvard researchers examined the relationship between the score on the phobia index and the subsequent risk of having a heart disease event. They found, "Women who suffered most from phobic anxiety -- those who scored four or greater on the survey -- were at a marginally increased risk of dying suddenly from coronary heart disease in general compared to those in the lowest quarter of the population."
Higher scores were associated with an increased risk for sudden cardiac death and fatal heart disease but not non-fatal heart attack. Specifically, women with scores greater than four had a 59-percent increased risk of sudden cardiac death and a 31-percent greater risk of fatal coronary heart disease compared to those with a score of zero or one.
Researchers conclude associations between anxiety and other cardiac risk factors might account for some, but not all, of the risks linked to phobic anxiety. They are not sure whether phobic anxiety makes women more likely to develop other risk factors for heart disease or whether these risk factors lead to higher levels of phobic anxiety.
Although this study did not examine whether treating anxieties would lower a woman's risk of fatal heart disease, researchers say women with phobic anxieties should at least try to control other potential heart disease risk factors.
SOURCE: Circulation, 2005;111:480-487
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