TORONTO, Oct. 27 /CNW Telbec/ - Family doctors and psychiatrists should
carefully monitor the heart health of patients with anxiety disorders, Dr.
Simon Bacon told the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2008, co-hosted by the
Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society.
"People with anxiety disorders are four times more likely to develop high
blood pressure (hypertension) over one year than those of us who are anxiety
free," says Dr. Bacon, a Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher at the
Montreal Heart Institute. "Hypertension is a leading risk factor for stroke
and heart disease."
Anxiety disorders are among the most common of all forms of mental
illness, according to Dr. Bacon. People affected frequently (often daily)
experience intense feelings of fear and distress that are typically out of
proportion to the actual threat or danger. They also tend to disrupt daily
functioning, including personal relationships and the ability to work. They
include general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive
disorder, and social phobia.
"Anxiety can cause increases in your blood pressure and heart rate. If it
is persistent, those effects could be damaging," says Heart and Stroke
Foundation researcher and spokesperson Dr. Brian Baker. "While we still need
more understanding about how anxiety is associated with sustained high blood
pressure, it is important that blood pressure is regularly monitored in people
with anxiety disorders and that therapy - including anxiety management - is
Dr. Bacon says that anxiety can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices,
including poor diet, smoking, and physical inactivity, which can also increase
a person's overall risk for heart disease and stroke.
"In the general population, at any point in time, anxiety disorders
affect approximately 12 per cent of people," says Dr. Bacon. "And, anxiety
disorders are generally twice more common among women than among men."
Dr. Bacon's research followed 185 patients with normal blood pressures
for one year. The mean age of the patients was 58 years; 39 per cent were
women, and 61 per cent were men. Sixteen per cent of patients had an anxiety
disorder and 14 per cent had a mood disorder. Mood disorders include major
depression, minor depression, and dysthymia.
Each patient underwent a structured psychiatric interview and provided
information about their health. At the end of one year Dr. Bacon again
collected information about participants' health.
Four per cent of the subjects without an anxiety disorder developed high
blood pressure. However, 14 per cent of those who had an anxiety disorder
The increase in high blood pressure did not apply to patients with mood
disorders. "Our study also showed that patients who developed mood disorders
were not at a higher risk of developing hypertension," says Dr. Bacon.
"It is possible to have both," says Dr. Bacon. "It is very common to be
depressed and anxious. But our study separated them out and found - at least
over one year - that anxiety is a major culprit in hypertension."
Depression has a pronounced but indirect effect on the development of
hypertension. People who are depressed tend to exercise less and make
unhealthy lifestyle choices, according to Dr. Bacon.
But anxiety may create a direct, physiological response - a shock to the
- Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event
(such as speaking in public or a first date), anxiety disorders last at
least six months and can get worse if they are not treated.
- Anxiety disorders commonly occur along with other mental or physical
illnesses, including depression, alcohol, or substance abuse, which may
mask anxiety symptoms or make them worse. In some cases, these other
illnesses need to be treated before a person will respond to treatment
for the anxiety disorder.
- Effective therapies for anxiety disorders are available. Most people
with anxiety disorders lead productive, fulfilling lives. People who
think they have an anxiety disorder should seek information and
treatment right away.
"One of the main messages here is that it is important to look after
one's mental health as much as one's physical health," says Dr. Bacon. "If you
have chronic anxious feelings, this could lead to worse heart health. There is
no need to suffer - there are very good treatments out there."
Statements and conclusions of study authors are solely those of the study
authors and do not necessarily reflect Foundation or CCS policy or position.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Cardiovascular
Society make no representation or warranty as to their accuracy or
The Heart and Stroke Foundation (heartandstroke.ca), a volunteer-based
health charity, leads in eliminating heart disease and stroke and reducing
their impact through the advancement of research and its application, the
promotion of healthy living, and advocacy.
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