According to a new report published in the American Heart Association medical journal called Stroke, the more anxiety that people have, the greater their stroke risk is.
This new study is the first in which scientists have been able to link stroke and anxiety independently of other risk factors like depression.
Anxiety is a catchall term used to describe feelings of nervousness, fear and worry. While it is normal to feel anxiety when faced with challenging events, like a test or speaking in front of a group, these feelings can become problematic when they are so strong that they interfere with sleep and day-to-day living. When this occurs, it is known as an anxiety disorder. There are several different types of anxiety disorders, with panic disorder, agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder being a few examples. Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental disorders that people experience.
A stroke in an event which occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is interrupted, either because a blood clot is blocking an artery or an artery breaks. When an area of the brain is not getting a sufficient amount of blood, it stop receiving the oxygen that it needs and brain cells begin to die, causing damage in that area. The stroke-affected person then loses whatever abilities that were controlled by that area of the brain. Many people lose speech, memory and movement after having a stroke. How much a person is affected a stroke, however, depends upon which specific parts of the brain were affected and how severe the damage was. Stroke is the No. 4 killer and a leading cause of disability in the United States.
In order to study how stroke risk is linked to anxiety, the researchers conducted a 22-year-long study which examined a national representative group of 6,019 people. The study participants, who were part of the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES I), were between the ages of 25 and 74 years old.
As part of the study, the participants were interviewed and had blood tests and medical examinations. They also took questionnaires to assess their anxiety and depression. The scientists were able to use reports from hospitals and nursing homes as well as death certificates in order to track who had strokes.
After accounting for other factors, the researchers were able to determine that even modest increases in anxiety were linked to a greater risk for having a stroke. Specifically, the top one-third of people who had symptoms of anxiety had a 33 percent greater risk for stroke than those in the lowest one-third.
According to study author Maya Lambiase of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, elevated and chronic anxiety takes a toll on the vascular system over time. This could be because of elevated stress hormones, heart or blood pressure, she says. Also, people who have more anxiety tend to get less exercise and smoke more, which could also increase stroke risk.
The study report appears in the the most recent issue of Stroke.
By Nancy Schimelpfening