Anxiety and heart failure: Worried to death

According to Martens et. al (2010), the rate of a cardiovascular event (stroke, heart failure, myocardial infarctions, transient ischemic attack, and death) in outpatients with generalized anxiety  disorder (GAD) was significantly  higher (9.6%) compared to the rate in patients without GAD (6.6%).   Even more disturbing is the finding that after adjusting for confounders, including major depressive disorder, demographics, cardiac disease severity, and medication use, GAD was associated with a 62% higher cardiovascular event rate.  

The cause of this relationship is not clear, but the researchers believe anxious patients with coronary heart disease (CHD) tend to use an avoidant coping strategy resulting in them not seeking treatment.  Consequently, the patients are not being diagnosed and treated preventively.  One thing is clear: if we can effectively treat the GAD, we can reduce the risk of deaths due to coronary heart disease (CHD).

GAD is characterized by excessive, difficult to control worrying, fear, apprehension, or unease over common things and events over a span of at least 6 months.  While there are effective treatments available for GAD, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, relaxation techniques, medications, etc., these treatments need to be accessed before it is too late.  Therefore, we need to stop, assess, take action, and pursue until we get the answers we need. 

Stop and give yourself time to reflect on your situation.  Assess the level of your anxiety by using a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best your have ever felt and 10 being the worst you have ever felt.  Corroborate your results with another (family or friend).  If your score is high, take action as soon as possible.  Make an appointment to see your primary care physician, but don’t stop there. Become a self-advocate and continue to pursue solutions to your problem until you are satisfied with the results.  Otherwise, your symptoms may return.  Lastly, if you are one of the people who suffer from GAD and CHD, seeking help maybe a matter of life and death.

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