Heart Attacks: High Hopes vs. High Anxiety

By Vergano, Dan | Science News, November 2, 1996 | Go to article overview

Heart Attacks: High Hopes vs. High Anxiety


Vergano, Dan, Science News


Telling someone who's just suffered a heart attack to lighten up sounds like the height of insensitivity, but it may be the best advice. Patients who keep their anxiety in check after a heart attack suffer fewer complications, according to a new study.

"People who felt more in control did better," says Debra Moser of Ohio State University in Columbus. "I've always been impressed by the link between emotions and health, and this backs it up."

Patients in Moser's study took a widely used stress test within 48 hours of suffering a heart attack. The test measures feelings of anxiety and control of a situation. Medically stable and free of pain in their hospital beds, the patients answered a series of questions about their emergency, such as "How much were you distressed by shakiness or nervousness inside?"

Understandably, the test group displayed anxiety levels far above those found in the general public. Moser placed more than a quarter of the heart attack victims into a high-stress group, defined as people with anxiety scores above the average for newly admitted psychiatric patients.

The 86 test takers were then tracked during their hospital stay for signs of further heart trouble. Almost 20 percent of high-anxiety patients, versus 6 percent of low-anxiety patients, suffered further complications, such as angina, heart spasms, another heart attack, or death.

After controlling for age, seriousness of the first heart attack, and other factors, the researchers discovered that the stress-related risk was even higher than the raw numbers indicated. High-anxiety patients were 4.9 times more likely to suffer further complications, Moser reports in the just-released September-October Psychosomatic Medicine.

"This doesn't mean everyone who's nervous is in danger," she says. "You have to be in a vulnerable state first." She also cautions that the results do not shed any light on the cause of the relationship between anxiety and further heart attacks. …

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