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April 2016

Anxiety and Heart Disease: Women Take Note

Women who have symptoms of an anxiety disorder may also have heart disease, researchers say.

Older woman looking anxious

It may be that the symptoms of anxiety are masking the symptoms of heart disease. In women, the symptoms are similar: chest discomfort or pain and feeling like your heart is pounding or fluttering (palpitations).

Or it could be that anxiety disorder causes less blood flow to the heart (ischemia). This can cause less oxygen to reach the heart, setting the woman up for a heart attack.

Women are more likely than men to have an anxiety disorder. And women often have different symptoms than men during a heart attack. Women are more likely to say their chest pain is sharp or burning. They may have pain in the neck, jaw, throat, belly, or back.

For the study, researchers looked at more than 2,300 people. Of that total, 760 were women. All people in the study were given an exercise stress test. The test looked at how blood flowed to the heart. They were also interviewed to look at their mental health.

Anxiety results

The researchers found that women with anxiety were far more likely to have ischemia than women without anxiety. The men showed no similar effects.

"Women with anxiety should be treated seriously because frequently they have ischemia,” says Karla Kurrelmeyer, MD. “And doctors need to do more diagnostic testing to make sure symptoms are due to anxiety instead of obstructive coronary artery disease." Kurrlemeyer is a heart doctor in Houston. She was not involved in the study.

If you have anxiety or depression, ask your healthcare provider about your risks for heart health.

 

Find out more about anxiety disorders.

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