Worried (Heart) Sick? How Anxiety Triggers Heart Ills

Even when she started experiencing cardiac symptoms back in November, she didn't want to leave her business lunch to go the hospital.

"I thought, 'I don't want to create a scene,' and I went ahead and finished my lunch because I thought it might be indigestion," she said.

That's very common in people with GAD.

"The hallmark of GAD is the perception of threats that others might perceive as neutral events," said Varma. "They will always have things to worry about."

"There are conflicting beliefs. They'll believe that anxiety makes them suffer, but on the other hand, anxiety gets the job done," Varma added.

Heart Problems Lead to Even More Anxiety

Sharon Chayra of Las Vegas is very familiar with fear. Like Pierott, she is a busy business owner and mother. On top of that, she's going through a divorce and is also getting over a broken relationship.

She's been suffering from anxiety for the past two decades, and she's also suffered serious cardiac symptoms.

"At times, I wake up with tachycardia [the sensation that the heart is pounding] or I'll feel flush," she said.

She had a panic attack about 20 years ago and was hospitalized for it. Her doctors found she had mitral valve prolapse, which medical experts say is believed to be associated with panic attacks.

During her panic attack, she had a spasm in her larynx that made it difficult to breathe.

Because of that spasm and her recurrent bouts of heart palpitations and tachycardia, she is always in fear that the worst possible consequence awaits her.

"I definitely worry about having a heart attack," she said. "And the fear of something happening makes my anxiety worse."

"If you knew that you had just had a heart attack or were told that you had cardiovascular disease, this can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, episodes of intermittent high blood pressure, et cetera," said McCann.

"This could help explain the relationship between anxiety and CHD (coronary heart disease)."

Study Sends Important Message to Doctors

Dr. Philip Ragno, director of cardiovascular health and wellness at Winthop University Hospital, said he and many other cardiologists are very aware that extreme stress has been associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular problems, especially in people with existing heart disease.

A study like this one, he said, drives that point home even more.

"This is more of an important study for physicians to be aware of so that when doctors see patients in their office, they make special note of their anxiety and other symptoms," he said. "It shows us that many conditions are multifaceted and it's extremely important for doctors to work together so people's risk factors can be controlled."

But others say this study sends a much more important message.

"It's a call to action to people with GAD that they need to get help. Not only are you feeling miserable physically and mentally, but you can die from it," said Varma.

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