Anxiety increases risk of heart disease and mortality in heart patients

Diseases of the heart and circulatory system are the most frequent cause of death in industrialized countries. In her dissertation, Annelieke Roest shows that anxiety is linked to an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and an unfavorable prognosis in patients who have suffered from heart attacks. Moreover, this link seems to be independent of traditional cardiovascular risk factors and depression.

In the Netherlands, heart disease is the cause of about one-third of all deaths every year. Previous research has shown that there is a relationship between psychological factors such as stress and depression and the development of heart disease. Roest looked at twenty scientific studies which followed 250,000 people over an average of 11 years.

Overall, these studies showed that those who suffered from anxiety at the start of the study had at least a 25% greater chance of developing a heart condition than those who did not suffer from anxiety. Additionally, people who suffer from anxiety were found to have a 50% greater chance of dying from cardiovascular causes.

Roest also found that in twelve studies involving a total of 5750 patients who had suffered a heart attack, those who suffered from serious anxiety had a 36% greater chance of having another heart attack or of dying. In a separate study involving heart attack patients in the Netherlands, she also showed that patients who had a generalized anxiety disorder were almost twice as likely to die or be re-admitted to hospital as a result of heart disease.

These studies demonstrate that there is a clear link between anxiety and the development of heart disease in general and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in heart patients.

Annelieke Roest (born Eindhoven, 1985) studied Medical Psychology at Tilburg University. She is currently employed as a postdoc researcher at the University Medical Center in Groningen. Dissertation: Anxiety and depression in coronary heart disease: a closer look.