Why Does Anxiety Increase the Risk of a Heart Attack?

By: John Scott

Xanax is now one of the most trusted of medications for the relief of anxiety. But, to many unsympathetic individuals, anxiety disorders are not real illnesses. You can always hear the complaints. These people are faking it to avoid working for a living. This kind of prejudice is difficult to fight because anxiety is something that happens inside your head. You seem out of control. You take a Xanax. You seem calm again. It is not like a broken leg that everyone can understand.

To be anxious or even a little afraid is the most natural thing in the world. Ever since animals first developed a memory, they have learned that danger can result in injury or death, giving us the basic instinct to fight or flee. Today, there are fewer predators lurking in the bushes, but the sense of dread about what faces us in the future remains just as real. Someone who suffers from agoraphobia can be frozen with panic when trying to go outside. Similarly, a person caught up in a social situation where embarrassment is in prospect may start sweating, heart racing and fainting imminent. Xanax relieves these symptoms.

Have you noticed how there is a fairly consistent theme in horror stories? There is a "blood-curdling scream" or "the blood froze in his veins". Well, a team of researchers based in Germany has found empirical evidence that the blood of those with anxiety disorders does act in an unusual way and that this increases the risk of a stroke or heart attack.

The team recruited sixty participants, half of whom suffered from a severe form of anxiety or panic disorder and were treated with Xanax or an equivalent. The control group were "healthy". To compensate for factors of gender and age that might influence anxiety levels in different social situations, each of the "disordered" patients was matched with a "normal" participant of the same gender and age. Although this is not a perfect method for eliminating bias, it does at least attempt to compensate for it.

The participants gave a blood sample, performed a series of computer-based tests, and then gave a second sample. Both samples were analysed to determine the levels of clotting factors. The results were clear. The group with anxiety and panic disorders showed a much more active coagulation system than the control group.

The body's system for clotting is fundamental to keeping us safe when injured. If blood vessels are damaged and blood leaks out, the blood thickens and hardens into a plug to prevent further leakage. The opposite process is called fibrinolysis. It breaks down clots that might interfere with the smooth flow of blood through the arteries and veins.

The new research shows that those with anxiety and panic disorders have a more active coagulation system with fibrinolysis inhibited. This is a unexpected result because apart from the breaks in the skin to take the two blood samples, there was no injury. It clearly demonstrates that the clotting system was unbalanced. This could be dangerous because, in extreme cases, a coronary artery could be blocked. However, the coagulation levels actually measured were only high within the "normal" range.

This research offers an explanation of the statistical data showing those suffering from an anxiety or panic disorder are three or four times more likely to die of a stroke or heart attack. Thus, when there are other factors such as obesity or smoking which increase the risk profile, an anxiety disorder can tip the coagulation balance into the danger zone.

The moral is clear. The earlier an anxiety or panic disorder is diagnosed the better. In the short term, treatment with Xanax can reduce the psychological triggers for anxiety states. There can be parallel treatment for lifestyle changes, say to reduce weight and stop smoking, so that the risk of heart disease can also be reduced. Xanax in combination with other preventative measures can save lives.

And, of course, the German results do provide empirical evidence that the anxiety and panic disorders have very real and dangerous physical consequences. So keep taking the Xanax as prescribed by your doctor and stay safe.

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