This site is intended for health professionals only

Anxiety linked to heart attacks

New research has suggested that usually harmless panic attacks in younger people may be closely linked to heart disease and heart attacks.

A study by University College London researchers revealed that 404,654 people diagnosed as suffering from panic attacks, caused by extreme anxiety, had a "significantly greater chance" of developing heart disease than the rest of the population.

The research also found that those under 50 who experienced panic attacks had a much higher risk of developing heart disease or having heart problems than the older participants in the study.

Study leader Dr Kate Walters said: "Our findings have significant implications for clinicians. Panic attacks were associated with a significant increased risk of a subsequent diagnosis of coronary heart disease. This may be due to initial misdiagnosis of heart disease as panic attacks, or a true underlying increased risk of CHD with panic attacks."

The findings are reported in the European Heart Journal.

Dr Walters urged people diagnosed with panic attacks or panic disorder to consult their doctors, but stressed they should not be unduly worried.

"The vast majority of people with panic attacks will not go on to have a heart attack or heart diseases such as angina. People should be encouraged to go back to their GPs for further assessment if their symptoms continue or reoccur."

Copyright © Press Association 2008

European Heart Journal