New Study Shows Men Prone to Anxiety Can Develop More Risk Factors for Heart Disease

2/23/2022

The American Heart Association reports that middle-aged men who worry a lot have a higher chance of developing risk factors that can lead to heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes as they age, according to research that tracked men for 40 years.

The study, published in January 2022 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found men who often felt anxious or overwhelmed developed heart disease risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol at a faster rate than their less-worried peers. The biggest worriers had a 10%-13% greater chance of eventually accumulating six or more risk factors, compounding the risks for heart disease and stroke associated with normal aging.

"Having six or more high-risk cardiometabolic markers suggests that an individual is very likely to develop or has already developed cardiometabolic disease," lead study author Lewina Lee, PhD, said in a news release on the research. Lee is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. She also is an investigator and clinical psychologist at the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Researchers analyzed data collected by the Veteran’s Administration Boston Outpatient Clinic from 1,561 men between 1975 and 2015 whose average age at the start of the study was 53.

Dealing with Stressful Situations

The men were assessed for neuroticism – the tendency to interpret situations as stressful, threatening or overwhelming – and worry levels through two mail-in surveys. They also had physical exams, including blood tests, every three to five years until they died or the study period ended. Seven cardiometabolic risk factors were measured, including blood pressure; total cholesterol; triglycerides; obesity; fasting blood sugar; and an inflammation marker called erythrocyte sedimentation rate.

Overall, the men developed one cardiometabolic risk factor per decade from ages 33 to 65, with an average of 3.8 risk factors by age 65. People with high levels of neuroticism had more risk factors than their less-stressed peers at all ages and were 13% more likely to develop six or more cardiometabolic risk factors as they aged. Those who said they worried a lot were 10% more likely to accumulate six or more cardiometabolic risk factors.

Experiencing Intense Emotions

"Individuals with high levels of neuroticism are prone to experience negative emotions – such as fear, anxiety, sadness and anger – more intensely and more frequently," said Dr. Lee said. "Worry refers to our attempts at problem-solving around an issue whose future outcome is uncertain and potentially positive or negative. Worry can be adaptive, for example, when it leads us to constructive solutions. However, worry can also be unhealthy, especially when it becomes uncontrollable and interferes with our day-to-day functioning."

To help remedy this situation, Lee suggested having routine health checkups and being proactive in managing cardiometabolic disease risk levels (such as taking medications for high blood pressure and maintaining a healthy weight), they may be able to decrease their likelihood of developing cardiometabolic disease.

Methodist Hospital Heart Experts Can Help

Methodist Hospital of Southern California offers the latest diagnostic and treatment services. Our highly qualified Chest Pain Team is available 24 hours a day to evaluate and relieve chest pain quickly. Whether you are having a heart attack or believe you are at a high risk of heart disease, our team is ready to perform a thorough examination and help you make critical changes that give patients a second chance at life. To learn more about heart care at Methodist Hospital, click here: https://www.methodisthospital.org/Our-Services/Cardiology.aspx

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