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Anxiety is a common mental condition for many Americans.  Experiencing an anxiety or panic attack can be quite scary if you’re unaware of what’s going on.  In fact, symptoms of an anxiety or panic attack can often be similar to that of heart problems related to heart disease.  But is there a direct correlation between the two? Can severe anxiety disorder cause heart problems that can lead to heart disease?  Can having heart disease increase anxiety levels and ultimately further damage heart health? While these topics are still generally debated, here is some firm evidence of correlation between the two.

Someone that is regularly anxious, or suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is likely to experience heightened anxiousness or bouts of panic that cause their body to physically react in a way that may put stress on their heart.  For example, factors such as a rapid heart rate (tachycardia) or increased blood pressure could be direct results of severe anxiety or panic, and could also cause unwanted stress on your heart. In fact, chronic high blood pressure can lead to weakened heart muscles, coronary disease, and ultimately heart failure.

On the other end of the spectrum, facing a heart attack or other heart problems can leave patients with fear, anxiety, and panic disorders; and it’s not uncommon to develop them if you don’t know what you can do to better manage your symptoms.  If you have previously suffered a heart attack, or are facing heart disease or other heart related issues, talk to your doctor about managing your anxiety to reduce your stress, and prevent any added stress to your heart. Additionally, it’s important to recognize that symptoms of a heart attack and a panic attack can often be extremely similar if not almost identical.

A panic attack can cause symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and a rapid heart rate.  These symptoms can often be associated with heart disease or mistaken for a heart attack. If you experience any of these symptoms, regardless of prior history of anxiety or panic disorders, you should always seek immediate medical attention to rule out life-threatening heart issues.  According to Dr. Una McCann, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, “Anyone suffering from sudden and severe chest pain—whether being treated for anxiety disorder or not— should go to the emergency room. The physician will test the patient’s blood for specific heart muscle enzymes. If none are found, it’s usually not a heart attack.”