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how does anxiety affect the heart?
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how does anxiety affect the heart?

  Please can you tell me how anxiety affects the heart?  I have suffer from pvc's
  and pac's which come in runs and tend to be worse when I am stressed out.  
  They began the same time that I began suffering from anxiety and panic attacks
  and tend to come in runs lasting months, days minutes or hours.  There seems to be no
  set pattern however when this all began and I was housebound due to panic they were much
  worse.  I know this because I constantly check my pulse (a bad habit I know) but
  I't wasn't the fact that I was just noticing them they really were worse.
  I understand from these pages all the info on pvs's etc but i would like to
  know what chemicals released during episodes of anxiety affect the heart and
  how?  Also how doeas hyperventilation and muscle tension affect it also?
  I often hear how stess is a major factor of heart desease, sufferers of
  anxiety and panic are constantly under stress so I was woundering if this
  is of any consequence can anxiety bring on a heart attack and if so how?
  Thank-you for your time.
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Dear Keely, thank you for your question.  Anxiety certainly can affect the heart, so we recommend that patients suffering from anxiety do all they can to control stress and anxiety.  Generally, this effort requires the assistance of a psychiatrist.  Other than adrenaline, I'm not sure that physicians know the exact biochemical pathways involved in the anxiety-pvc axis.  Likewise, hyperventilation and muscle tension are symptoms of stress and not necessarily individual precipitants of pvc's.  The key to controlling pvc's is to not focus on them and try to focus on other activities.  Additionally, tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine should be avoided because they can cause pvc's too.  Stress can cause a heart attack in someone with other predisposing factors (smoking, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and a family history of coronary artery disease) but rarely could cause such damage in someone who's otherwise healthy.  I've attached a response from a user of the heart forum on how to deal with pvc's that I hope helps you.  Good luck.

"Hi there - I read your letter written in to the docs at the heart forum.  First of all - you can feel assured - there are plenty of us out there that get the same thing and all of think its scary!  I had a hard time accepting that I will have these strange poundings and beats at unexpected times, but after much thought and a good talk with a cardiologist, I have decided that life is too short to sit around and worry.  As long as people know you have this problem and a doc has told you its nothing more than PVC's, try to relax.  I try to keep a sense of humor about the whole thing - coming home from work I went through this whole sequence of "what if" questions.  Like what's the worse thing that could happen- a heart attack.  And if I have one, what's the worse will happen - I will die.  Well, I am going to go sometime, so it could be a book falling off a shelf at work and hitting me in the head before I ever have a heart attack.  So please try to relax about it, because stress makes them worse too, that I learned pretty fast.  I don't drink or eat anything with caffeine, stay away from alcohol, try to de-stress my life when possible and when I get a bad bunch of PVC's, I try to do something to keep my mind off of them.  It's hard when they occur at night, but I just get up and do and watch television or something like that.  I get more at night. I feel bad for you having the panic problem, I went through that too and had just decided that after a year on medication, I needed to get the control of my life in my own hands if possible, not medication.  So I did a lot of reading on panic attacks, etc.  Now I just talk myself out of them as best as I can and just ride the ones I get.  Life is so hectic, its hard to avoid things that cause us to get all worked up. Hang in there - we are all in the same boat.  My advice to you is to see a cardiologist that can put your mind at ease and help you to understand that you won't die from PVC's, just get a little uncomfortable once in awhile." Sherry

I hope you find this information useful.  Information provided in the heart forum is for general purposes only.  Only your physician can provide specific diagnoses and therapies. Please feel free to write back with additional questions.
If you would like to make an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic Heart Center, please call 1-800-CCF-CARE or inquire online by using the Heart Center website at www.ccf.org/heartcenter.   The Heart Center website contains a directory of the cardiology staff that can be used to select the physician best suited to address your cardiac problem.

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