Who Do Panic Attacks Affect?
Some 2.4 million Americans regularly experience episodes of panic, although the cause of panic attacks can be difficult to diagnose. Panic ‘disorder’ usually involves unexpected and possibly multiple occurences of intense fear which is often accompanied by frightening physical symptoms, including chest pain, dizziness, heart palpitations and shortness of breath. Typically, Panic disorder patients are more likely to be female, overweight, smokers and have a history of depression. The symptoms are particularly worrying because they appear to mimic symptoms of an actual heart attack.
Panic attack studies confirm heart risk
New research conducted by Doctor Kate Walters from University College, London, has discovered that there is an increased risk to heart health as a result of these panic attacks – in other words, panic attacks the heart. This may be due to the effect that a panic attack has on the body’s sympathetic nervous system, and the theory behind this claim is that people suffering from panic disorder may be more likely to experience clogged arteries related to the panic attacks. The study was conducted using the health records of more than 400,000 people across a broad age range, including 57,000 people who had been diagnosed with panic attacks
However, there are opposing theories that panic attacks may in fact cause the sufferer to indulge in unhealthy lifestyle habits, which result in the increased risk of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), rather than the effects of the panic attacks. The study which was published in the European Heart Journal, concluded that if you are under 50 years old, and you suffer from panic attacks, then your risk of suffering a heart attack (myocardial infarction) is increased by one third. If you are aged over 50 years, your risk of heart disease is still elevated, but to a much lesser degree.
Another study published in 2005 in the Official Journal of the American Psychosomatic Society concluded separately that individuals with panic disorder have nearly twice the average risk of suffering from some form of coronary heart disease. When the panic attacks cause is also combined with depression, this increased to three times the risk. This research was based on the medical history of nearly 40,000 people from the initial diagnosis of panic disorder. The study was led by Professor Andres Gomez-Caminero, and appears to link certain psychiatric conditions to cardiovascular disease.
Caution from the British Heart Foundation
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has given a cautious response to these findings, and has reserved its judgement on the possibility of a proven relationship between panic attacks and heart problems. A spokesman for the BHF commented “There may be many reasons why this association was found. For example people who suffer from panic disorders may be more likely to smoke, or drink too much alcohol to help them relax. Having an unhealthy lifestyle is one of the biggest risks to developing heart disease, whether you have panic attacks or not.”
The overall conclusions to be drawn from these studies would indicate that stress responses to anxiety and depression have been shown to increase the risk of coronary heart disease, and highlights the requirement to raise awareness among physicians and cardiologists of panic disorder, and the importance of treating this condition in order to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
How to deal with panic attacks and panic attacks fear
If you are suffering, or think you may be suffering from any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, you should initially consult with your Doctor. Treatment for Panic disorder is usually given under the care of a physician or psychiatrist and may include panic attacks drugs, and/or psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Another expert in the field of psychiatry and neuroscience – Doctor Jack Gorman, from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, comments that the above study represents “one more piece of evidence that mood and anxiety disorders … significantly increase the risk for heart disease,” adding that more work is needed “to understand the basic biological link between the brain and the heart that explains these phenomena.”