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Panic Attacks Linked To Heart Attack Risk In Women

May 06, 2008 - 5 comments

ScienceDaily (Oct. 2, 2007) — Older women who experience at least one full-blown panic attack may have an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke and an increased risk of death in the next five years, according to a new report.

Panic attacks involve the sudden development of fear, anxiety or extreme discomfort accompanied by four or more additional symptoms, according to background information in the article. They may occur sporadically or as part of an anxiety disorder, such as panic disorder, social anxiety disorder or phobias.

Jordan W. Smoller, M.D., Sc.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues studied 3,369 healthy postmenopausal women (age 51 to 83, average age 65.9). When they entered the study between 1997 and 2000, the women filled out a questionnaire about the occurrence of panic attacks in the previous six months. They were then followed for an average of 5.3 years to see whether they had a heart attack or stroke or died from any cause.
About 10 percent of the women reported having a full-blown panic attack in the six months prior to the study. After the researchers adjusted for other cardiovascular risk factors, having one or more panic attacks was associated with four times the risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack), three times the risk of having a heart attack or stroke and nearly twice the risk of death from any cause. These associations remained after controlling for depression, suggesting that panic attacks may be a separate, independent risk factor for cardiovascular events.

The results add panic attacks to the list of emotions and psychiatric symptoms that have already been linked to cardiovascular risk, including depression, anger and hostility, the authors note. Panic attacks could be associated with other cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension. Alternatively, anxiety could contribute to adverse cardiovascular effects, such as coronary artery spasm, tendency toward increased blood clotting or disturbances in heart rhythm.

"These results suggest that panic anxiety is a marker for increased risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality among postmenopausal women," the authors conclude. "Future studies are needed to clarify the causal connection, if any, between panic attacks and cardiovascular events. Our results imply, however, that older women with a recent history of panic attacks represent a subgroup at elevated risk of myocardial infarction and stroke in whom careful monitoring and cardiovascular risk reduction may be particularly important."

This research is published in the October issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.
Reference: Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007;64(10):1153-1160.

The Women's Health Initiative program is funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Myocardial Ischemia and Migraine Study was funded by Glaxo Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline).

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198506 tn?1251160515
by Happy2girls, May 06, 2008
Thanks I am having a panic attack over my previous panic never ends.  LOL.  Seriously though, thank you for the article, it's very interesting.

Avatar universal
by bcomom, May 06, 2008
ya, me too, thanks a lot!  
i'm curious about what happens if i have a real heart attack or something serious happens to me and i blow it off as a panic attack!   i wonder how often that happens......

214864 tn?1229718839
by Jack54, May 07, 2008
Thanks Guys for your comments, and you are welcome for the posting of this article. The article doesn't surprise me a bit though. Panic or fear produces the fight or flight response. This in turn causes the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.

If we wander off the trail and meet a bear.....these hormones can save our lives, but if we are constantly dealing with panic, or panic attacks then it is very damaging to our bodies.

We that have panic attacks or chronic stress, must accept our condition(s) before we can start to help ourselves.

I just read that caffeine produces cortisol and adrenaline. The following words of wisdom came from: (addresses caffeine and adrenaline, among other stress related topics)

"Our bodies are fine tuned to handle short-term stress. They're programmed to anticipate stress, respond to it, re-assess it, and relax, once it's gone. The hormones adrenalin and cortisol are the major players in your body's stress defense. In a stressful situation, these hormones flood muscles and tissues to prepare your body for action. Once the stress subsides, they gradually leave the bloodstream and your system regains its balance. But, when stress comes in waves, or worse, is constant, adrenaline and cortisol levels remain high, putting your body into chronic overdrive and off balance.

Chronic stress is toxic to most body systems. You become more vulnerable to colds, flu and other infections. You also may feel fatigued, have trouble concentrating and be sleeping poorly. Nonstop stress affects your eating habits. High blood levels of cortisol associated with toxic stress almost always trigger a raging appetite and inappropriate eating patterns. Toxic stress can lead to heart disease, diabetes and other conditions. Other destructive behaviors, such as drinking excessive alcohol, may follow if stress is left unchecked."

198506 tn?1251160515
by Happy2girls, May 07, 2008
Thanks Jack, I do believe stress to be toxic.  All the folks I know who live into their 80s and 90s are easy going and laid back people.  If you're the type who stresses though it can be really hard to relax.  As far as caffeine, I've pretty much given it up...well....except for chocolate but everyone needs at least one vice, right?    

214864 tn?1229718839
by Jack54, May 07, 2008
At the very least, one :)

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