For the first time, medical researchers at the University College London attest what many physicians somehow suspected before but could not document with hard statistics. Anxiety disorders and panic attacks come along with massive cardiologic long-term consequences. Although connections between depressions and increased occurrence of myocardial infarctions are reckoned as proven and are examined to a large extent, only now the article by Kate Walters published recently in the European Heart Journal shows in an unaccustomed clarity just how much the mind can seriously endanger the human heart.
650 doctors’ practices from the General Practice Research Database provided as a data source, 57,615 patients diagnosed with anxiety disorders or panic attacks provided the basis of the study. A control group of 347,039 people diagnosed as without any pathological findings completed the study. With a total of 404,654 patients this cohort study is one of the most important studies of its kind, not just in the UK. “The results can be transferred to all other countries with a similar sociodemographic structure”, Emma Mason, speaker of the EHJ, comments this publication. At any rate, the analysis results prick one’s ear. Those who suffered from a panic attack until their 50th birthday showed a 38 percent higher likelihood to have a heart attack in their further course of life compared to people without any prior panic attacks. The risk for a cardio-vascular disease is even about 44 percent higher than the one of people free of any panics or anxieties.
Interestingly with an increasing age, the two groups draw nearer in regard to the risk for heart diseases. People starting to suffer from anxiety disorders after their 50th birthday show a considerably lower cardiologic risk of only 11 percent. Just how complex mind and heart are connected the mortality of patients with panic attacks demonstrates very impressively – compared to their “healthy” counterparts it sinks by a fulminant 24 percent. Why at first anxiety and panic gets the heart into a predicament and afterwards leads to a significantly higher survival rate remains a secret. “Perhaps people go more often to their doctor due to their psychological problems which helps finding potential heart disorders in an earlier stage”, presumes Walters. Assumedly another aspect might be of relevance as the London researcher writes. According to that, the panic attack at first lead to an activation of the sympathetic nervous system which in turn stresses the arteries and finally changes the heart rate. Why the heart problems come to light only years later – this thesis cannot explain it neither.
False diagnosis as a risk factor
From the point of view of the London medical scientists only one thing seems to be sure: Many physicians make a false diagnosis due to a similar symptom. For example a diffuse pain in the chest might indicate an impending heart infarction – but also the form of a panic attack. Because most physicians know that, it results in an increased number of false diagnoses according to Walters. Mostly people under the age of fifty have according to the study a good chance to get identified as anxiety patients when suffering from a heart disorder – which could explain the higher mortality. The study authors claim s better cooperation and networking between cardiologists, GPs and psychiatrists therefore would be indicated. Since the researchers assess data of the British GPRD of all things, the proposition at least could be applied for Great Britain – the enclosed hospitals and practices are considered representative. It would be inappropriate to hope that the results are just a snap shot in time: The study peruses the period between 1992 and 2002.