How Anxiety Can Affect Heart Disease

According to an editorial accompanying the study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 28% of people have been diagnosed with anxiety in their lives. 

People with Anxiety Disorder feel excessively or irrationally anxious and may have physical symptoms associated with anxiety such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, depression, and irritability. 

Although new research studies cannot confirm that anxiety can be a cause of heart disease or heart attacks, experts have long had an understanding of why anxiety and heart disease can be linked. 

Effect of Anxiety on Heart


Anxious state of being can interfere with the normal functioning of the heart and may increase the strain on the heart. Moreover, anxiety can worsen the condition of people who have a history of cardiac diseases

Anxiety can be linked to the risk factor of the following heart disorders: 

  • Increase blood pressure
  • Decreased heart rate variability
  • Rapid heart rate 

Anxiety Disorder


While anxiety, stress, and nervousness can be a normal part of life, chronic, persistent anxiety, which begins to impair normal daily functioning, is defined as a mental illness and known as an Anxiety Disorder. 

Anxiety is also very common in patients with heart failure. It is estimated that nearly 30% of patients show significant anxiety symptoms clinically. On the other hand, 13% fall in the criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorders (GADs), a type of depression. 

Further, the five main types of anxiety-inducing disorders include:

  • Panic Disorder: This is identified as the feelings of sudden and extreme agitation which is commonly accompanied by chest pains, dizziness, shortness of breath, stomach discomfort, and increased heart rate.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): In this condition, the person struggles while dealing with anything associated with traumatic or frightening events that occurred in the past such as violent crime, or a major accident, and experience extreme jitteriness and detachment. 
  • Panic Attacks: A panic attack that feels similar to a heart attack is the intense fear or anxiety which causes chest pain, sweating, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, nausea, and pounding heart.
  • Obsessive-compulsive Disorder: In this condition, a person tries to manage the stress and worry by unreasonably performing the same task over and over again that seemingly can cure the worry. 
  • Panic Syndrome: This condition occurs when a person repeatedly experiences unexpected panic attacks. 

Anxiety and Depression


Anxiety and depression appear to be widespread in patients with cardiovascular disease. Stress could affect the fatty plaques along the coronary arteries, and if the plaque bursts, it can lead to blood clots and a heart attack. Evidence suggests that anxiety may also be a risk factor for atherosclerosis or the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries, which could ultimately lead to heart problems such as high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke. 

Anxiety and Panic Attacks


Heart problems masquerading as panic attacks are similarly common, and patients often find themselves in the hospital thinking it’s a heart attack. The link could be a combination of increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and anxiety. Anxiety also often prevents people from getting enough sleep, which is an important factor in heart disease, heart failure, and other diseases. 

There are several studies showing that 25% of people with heart disease actually have some kind of anxiety problem, and that anxiety seems to make them more susceptible to heart problems. Panic attacks can strain the heart when they occur and can indeed be mistaken for a mild heart attack. If a person experiences a panic attack, he/she should seek help as soon as possible.

However, panic attacks that can worsen heart disease so much that they may lead to some kind of cardiovascular problem are extremely rare, and, according to the American Heart Association, only in those who already have severe heart disease. 

Can Anxiety interfere with Heart Attack Recovery?


Anxiety Disorders can occur at any time. It is experienced as increased fear and a high degree of uncertainty. If a person is suffering from prior heart disease or has experienced a heart attack, this degree of fear and uncertainty can hinder the recovery of the heart. 

A person with prior heart attack is prescribed to follow the certain regime and anxiety can hinder the process of following the regime, such as:

  • Sticking to a prescribed exercise routine
  • Consuming prescribed medications on time
  • Get the proper amount of sleep
  • Follow through a healthy diet
  • Reconnecting with friends and family

Bottom Line

Celano’s research has shown that anxiety is associated with increased mortality in people with heart disease. Although it is not proven whether anxiety causes or contributes to heart problems earlier in life, it makes sense that constant worry would promote heart and blood pressure problems over time. 

But how do people know if fear was the type that could hurt the heart in the long run? Here is a fun fact: 

When someone is afraid, their body reacts in a way that can create additional pressure on their heart. This disease mimics a heart attack called Takotsubo Syndrome or Broken Heart Syndrome. 

According to the American Heart Association, heart health can be affected by many mental health problems. If a person regularly experiences chronic stress or has suffered from a recent traumatic event, there can be chances that he/she is dealing with anxiety. Oftentimes, symptoms of panic and severe anxiety resemble heart attacks, which can hinder the recovery of the heart.

It is important to talk to the doctor, though, because it is extremely likely that some of these problems are related to anxiety. 

Anxiety can be a symptom of heart problems, but also the cause. However, managing stress can play a major role in keeping the heart healthy in the longer run.

FAQ About Anxiety and its Effects on Heart Diseases

Anxiety makes the heart condition worse. Research shows that approximately a quarter of people with cardiovascular disorders have some sort of anxiety problem. The heart patients who possess generalized anxiety disorder like pervasive distress, even regarding normal stuff are more prone to have heart attacks and serious heart problems than heart patients who don’t.

In an anxiety attack, people may appear fearful and anxious, may feel their heart racing or appear short of breath, but this is short-lived. An anxiety attack usually occurs in response to a stressor. When the stressor ends, the anxiety attack also goes away. But the panic attack doesn’t appear in response to a stressor. During a panic attack, the person is trapped with terror, dread, despair, or apprehension. Panic attacks are not predictable or provoked. The person has a multitude of physical symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and nausea.

By eating a balanced diet, drinking sufficient water to stay hydrated, limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine consumption and many other dietary considerations can help reduce anxiety.

Recognizing the symptoms of a panic attack and a heart attack can be difficult, as the symptoms of these two conditions overlap. 

Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • sharp stabbing pain in the middle of the chest
  • tingling in the hands
  • shortness of breath
  • racing heart rate
  • sweating
  • shakiness

A panic attack mostly resolves in 20-30 minutes.

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • squeezing pain in the middle of the chest
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sweating

Symptoms tend to last longer and get worse over time, during a heart attack.

Heart problems go hand in hand with anxiety. Studies show that one-fourth people with heart disease have some sort of anxiety problem. Research shows that because of generalized anxiety disorder, the chances of a heart attack increases.


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