Anxiety may raise stroke risk

The more prone you are to feeling anxious, the greater your risk for stroke, according to a study in the journal Stroke.

The study found that a high level of anxiety is an independent risk factor for a stroke—just like high blood pressure or smoking.

“Everyone has some anxiety now and then. But when it’s elevated and/or chronic, it may have an effect on your [blood vessels] years down the road,” said lead author Maya Lambiase, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

About the study

The study involved 6,019 people who were age 25 to 74 when they took part in the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) during the early to mid-1970s.

Researchers followed the people for an average of about 16 years, using the information gathered during NHANES as a baseline. That data included an interview, a physical examination and blood tests for each person.

The participants completed psychological questionnaires designed to gauge both their level of anxiety and depression. They were asked questions such as “Have you ever been anxious, worried or upset?” and “How relaxed or tense have you been?”

Using hospital reports and other medical records, the researchers discovered that 419 people had strokes over the ensuing years.

After analyzing all the data, the researchers found that:

  • Higher levels of anxiety were associated with a higher risk of stroke
  • The people with the highest levels of anxiety were 33 percent more likely to have a stroke compared to those with the lowest levels
  • Even slight increases in anxiety raised the risk of a stroke

The analysis found that adults who were anxious also were more likely to smoke and lead sedentary (not physically active) lives. Smoking and inactivity are known risk factors for stroke, which could partly explain the stroke-anxiety link.

Still, even after researchers adjusted their findings to account for those two behaviors, anxiety remained an independent risk factor for stroke. That was also true after adjusting for depression and other standard risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Researchers speculated that anxiety might play a role in stroke because being tense raises blood pressure, increases levels of stress hormones and speeds up heart rate. Anxiety also might contribute to arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), which can make someone more susceptible to stroke.

Take-home message
If you are an anxious person, talk about it with your doctor—especially if you smoke, aren’t physically active or have other risk factors for stroke. Find out what those are, and assess your risk for stroke, here.

 

Act FAST

If you think someone may be having a stroke, act FAST and do this simple test:

  • Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are his or her words slurred?
  • Time. If the person shows any of these symptoms, time is important. Call 911 immediately.

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