Panic attacks have been linked to a greater risk of coronary heart disease and heart attacks in younger people, according to a new study.
Scientists set out to explore the complex relationship between states of mind and physical health, according to a report in the December issue of European Heart Journal.

Their aim was to determine whether people suffering from panic attacks or disorder were at an increased risk of suffering coronary heart disease, acute myocardial infarction (heart attacks) and causes of death related to these conditions.

“The complex relationship between the heart and the mind has been a subject of much recent debate,” writes study scientists Kate Walters and colleagues from the Department of Primary Care & Population Sciences, Hampstead Campus, University College London, in the United Kingdom.

“Most of past researches had focused on the relationship between depression and . . . coronary heart disease and relatively little large-scale research has considered anxiety disorders. Less is known about the relationship of panic disorder with cardiac disease.”

Panic attacks are experienced as very sudden periods of intense anxiety, fear, stomach problems and discomfort lasting around 30 minutes, that may strike without warning.

The study compared incidences of fatalities due to heart attacks and coronary disease in 57,615 adults diagnosed with panic attacks and disorder, with fatalities in a sample of control subjects. In people below the age of 50 there was a significantly higher incidence of heart attacks after the onset of panic attacks or disorders. No such link was found in older patients. However, for all ages there was a higher incidence of coronary heart disease in patients suffering panic attacks or disorder, especially in those younger than 50 years old.

Despite this, there were no significant differences in mortality rates from coronary heart disease.

The scientists speculated that this might be due to an initial misdiagnosis of coronary heart disease as panic attacks, or an underlying increased risk of coronary heart disease with panic attacks or disorder in younger people.

“The increased hazard of coronary heart disease and acute myocardial infarction is higher in younger people presenting with panic,” the study authors concluded. “Clinicians may be more cautious about excluding coronary heart disease when making initial panic diagnoses in older people, and therefore have a lower rate of initial misdiagnosis of coronary heart disease as panic.”

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