New research highlights the power of the mind and the influence of our perceptions on disease chances. Healthy people who worry about having a heart attack have a higher possibility of heart disease, independent of other risk factors, compared with those who don’t worry, according to a study in BMJ Open (2016; doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012914). A preoccupation with having or acquiring a serious illness is an anxiety disorder. People with health anxiety, known as the “worried well,” often have symptoms similar to heart disease—such as chest discomfort, palpitations, nausea, sweating and abnormally rapid breathing.
Findings were based on data analysis of over 7,000 adults during 12 years of follow-up in the Norwegian Hordaland Health Study and on statistics from a nationwide cardiovascular disease register. Researchers linked data from both sources to determine whether people with high levels of health anxiety had a higher risk of developing heart disease than those who worried less about their health.
The lead study author, Line Iden Berge MD, PhD, researcher in the department of global public health and primary care at the University of Bergen in Norway, said, “People with high levels of health anxiety have about a 70 percent increased risk of ischemic heart disease, relative to persons with low levels [of anxiety], after accounting for lifestyle and other established risk factors for heart disease,” in a university news release. Study authors recommended that health anxiety be properly diagnosed and treated.
The research paper is open access and available at http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/11/e012914.full.pdf+html.