People who are prone to anxiety may face greater risks following heart surgery than their counterparts with more relaxed dispositions, a study has found.
In a study of 180 heart surgery patients, Hungarian researchers found that patients with anxiety-prone personalities had a slightly higher death rate and a greater risk of hospitalisation in the four years following their surgery.
The findings, reported in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, add to evidence that heart disease prognosis is not just a matter of physical health. A number of studies have suggested that depression and anxiety disorders may contribute to or worsen heart disease. There is also evidence that personality traits - whether a person is prone to hostility, for example - affect heart health.
In the current study, "trait anxiety," or a person's general tendency to suffer anxiety symptoms, was linked to a poorer prognosis following heart surgery.
"Our results highlight the role of anxiety in cardiovascular mortality," said lead study author Dr Andrea Szekely, of the Gottsegen Gyorgy Hungarian Institute of Cardiology.
Since anxiety can be treated, Szekely told Reuters Health, the findings suggest that cardiologists should routinely question patients about anxiety symptoms.
The study included 180 men and women undergoing either heart bypass surgery or surgery on the heart valves. Before having the procedure, patients completed standard questionnaires on depression and anxiety symptoms; they completed the same measures periodically over the four years following surgery.
Many study patients - roughly half - had significant anxiety symptoms shortly before surgery; but such short-lived anxiety was not linked to death and hospitalisation rates in the long term.
Trait anxiety, on the other hand, was related to modestly elevated risks.
According to Szekely, chronic anxiety may cause persistent over-activity in the nervous system, which can take a toll on the cardiovascular system over time. Anxiety may also affect heart health indirectly, the researcher noted - by, for example, affecting people's diets and other lifestyle habits. – (Amy Norton/ Reuters Health)
SOURCE: Psychosomatic Medicine, September 2007.
Anxiety takes physical toll
Anxiety can be fatal