Heart disease: The feeling in middle age that increases your risk – new study

Heart disease: The feeling in middle age that increases your risk – new study

Heart disease: Doctor explains how to reduce risk

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Heart disease is a major cause of death both in the UK and worldwide. Symptoms of heart disease include angina or chest pain, heart attacks and heart failure. While healthy eating and regular exercise will significantly benefit your heart health, having an anxious or worried mind could inadvertently increase your risk. What is the link?

Middle-aged men who are anxious and worry more may be at greater biological risk for developing heart disease as they get older, according to new research published yesterday in the Journal of the American Heart Association, an open access journal of the American Heart Association.

“While the participants were primarily white men, our findings indicate higher levels of anxiousness or worry among men are linked to biological processes that may give rise to heart disease and metabolic conditions” said Doctor Lewina Lee, lead study author and assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.

He added: “These associations may be present much earlier in life than is commonly appreciated – potentially during childhood or young adulthood.”

In the study, the relationship between anxiety and cardiometabolic disease risk factors were tracked over time.

The investigators analysed data on participants in the Normative Aging Study, which is longitudinal.

The analysis included 1,561 men (97 percent white), who were an average age of 53 years in 1975.

The men completed baseline assessments of neuroticism and worry and did not have cardiovascular disease or cancer at that time. A personality inventory assessed neuroticism on a scale of 0–9. In addition, a worry assessment tool asked how often they worried about each of 20 items, with 0 meaning never and 4 meaning all the time.

“Neuroticism is a personality trait characterised by a tendency to interpret situations as threatening, stressful and/or overwhelming,” said Doctor Lee.

He explained: “Individuals with high levels of neuroticism are prone to experience negative emotions – such as fear, anxiety, sadness and anger – more intensely and more frequently.

“Worry refers to our attempts at problem-solving around an issue whose future outcome is uncertain and potentially positive or negative.

“Worry can be adaptive, for example, when it leads us to constructive solutions.

“However, worry can also be unhealthy, especially when it becomes uncontrollable and interferes with our day-to-day functioning.”

After their baseline assessment, the men had physical exams and blood tests every three to five years until they either passed away or dropped out of the study.

The research team used follow-up data through 2015.

During follow-up visits, seven cardiometabolic risk factors were measured: systolic (top number) blood pressure; diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure; total cholesterol; triglycerides; obesity; fasting blood sugar levels; and the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), a marker of inflammation.

A risk factor for cardiometabolic disease was considered in the high-risk range if the test results for the risk factor were higher than the cut-point established by national guidelines, or if the participant was taking any medicines to manage that risk factor (such as cholesterol-lowering medications).

Cut points for ESR as a risk factor are not standardised, so the participant was ranked as high-risk if they were in the top 25 percent of those tested.

Each participant was assigned a risk factor count score, one point for each of the seven risk factors classified as high-risk.

The men were then stratified based on whether they did or did not develop six or more high-risk factors during the follow-up period.

“Having six or more high-risk cardiometabolic markers suggests that an individual is very likely to develop or has already developed cardiometabolic disease,” concluded Doctor Lee.

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