Hypochondriacs may lead themselves real heart trouble
Staff Writer |
Constantly worrying about having a heart attack may make it more likely you'll have one, Norwegian researchers report.
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In fact, people dubbed the "worried well" were twice as likely to develop chest pain or have a heart attack compared to those who weren't anxious about their health, the new study found.
"People with high levels of health anxiety have about a 70 percent increased risk of heart disease, after taking [into] account other known risk factors," said lead researcher Dr. Line Iden Berge. She's from the division of psychiatry at the University of Bergen in Norway.
Even relatively low levels of health anxiety can increase the risk, compared to people without symptoms of health anxiety, she said.
This study, however, wasn't designed to prove that fretting over your health caused heart problems, only that these things seemed to be associated.
Because these findings can't be explained by risks for heart disease - such as smoking, lack of physical activity, drinking alcohol or a family history of heart disease - the increased risk may be "caused by physiological effects of the anxiety itself," Berge said.
"This new evidence of negative consequences over time emphasizes proper diagnosis and treatment of health anxiety," she said.
For the study, Berge and her colleagues collected data on more than 7,000 people who took part in the Norwegian Hordaland Health Study. The participants, all of whom were born between 1953 and 1957, completed two questionnaires about their health, lifestyle and education. In addition, between 1997 and 1999, they had a physical checkup that included blood tests, weight, height and blood pressure.
Levels of anxiety about health were assessed. Berge's team found that just over 700 people had scores that identified them as anxious about their health.
All of the people in the study were followed until the end of 2009. Those treated for heart disease or who died from it within a year after the start of the study were excluded, because they might already have been ill, the researchers said.
In all, 3 percent of the participants (234 people) had a heart attack or acute chest pain (angina) during follow-up. The average time to the first incident was just over seven years, the findings showed.
The proportion of those who developed heart disease was twice as high among the worried well as it was among those not anxious about their health -- 6 percent versus 3 percent, respectively. ■