WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Heart attacks may not be reserved for the hostile and driven among us — anxious, fearful people also have a higher risk, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.
They found men who scored the highest on tests of anxiety were 30 to 40 percent more likely than the others to have a heart attack.
The findings held even when standard heart risks such as diet and smoking were factored in, psychologist Biing-Jiun Shen and colleagues at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles reported.
“What we’re seeing is over and beyond what can be explained by blood pressure, obesity, cholesterol, age, cigarette smoking, blood sugar levels and other cardiovascular risk factors,” Shen said in a statement.
“Older men with sustained and pervasive anxiety appear to be at increased risk for a heart attack even after their levels of depression, anger, hostility and Type A behavior are considered.”
So-called Type A personalities include people who are ambitious, assertive and often those who are hostile as well.
Writing in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Shen and colleagues said they analyzed data from a study of 735 men. They took psychological tests in 1986, when they were still in good health, and then followed for 12 years.
Those who scored in the top 15 percentile for anxiety were more likely to suffer heart attacks later, the researchers found.
The finding should not be surprising, said Shen.
“The physiological reactions of anxiety are very similar to signs and changes that are thought to lead to myocardial infarctions,” Shen said, referring to heart attacks.
“Look at what happens when you are anxious. Your body reacts as if it is in danger. It is the flight or fight response. The reactions are very similar to those brought on by anger or a Type A personality that have been observed in earlier research.”
Nervous men can lower their risk of heart attack, Shen added.
“The good thing about anxiety is that it’s very treatable,” Shen said.
Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Mohammad Zargham