Overly Anxious People Have Higher Risk of Stroke

An obese woman afraid of having the risk of strokeA new US study has found a link between high anxiety levels and an increased risk of stroke independent of other risk factors, including depression.

The study was conducted by a team led by Maya J. Lambiase, PhD, from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pennsylvania. Lambiase and her colleagues noted that previous research had found higher levels of anxiety to be associated with increased risk for coronary heart disease but there were few studies investigating whether or not anxiety is associated with stroke risk.

The new study involved 6019 people 25 to 74 years who were followed for average of 16 years, during which time they underwent interviews, medical and physiological exams and blood tests. The stroke events of the study participants were identified by examining hospital or nursing home discharge reports and death certificates.

A total of 419 strokes were identified over the follow-up period but the risk of stroke was found to be higher among those who reported greater anxiety symptoms, including excessive feelings of worry, stress and nervousness, at the initial interview.

After those adjusting for other factors that may have influenced cardiovascular health, such as alcohol use, physical activity and smoking, the researchers found that people with higher levels of anxiety were 33 percent more likely to experience stroke than those with fewer anxiety symptoms.

The study’s conclusion was that “higher anxiety symptom levels were associated prospectively with increased risk for incident stroke independent of other risk factors, including depression.”

It is important to note that the new study only found an association between high anxiety level and a higher of chance of having a stroke but not a cause and effect (causation).

How Stress Contributes to Anxiety and Stroke Risk

Stress is a major contributing factor to anxiety, and can thus also contribute to the risk for stroke. Your body responds to stress through the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response System. It is a complex network of various organs and six circuits (including the neuroaffect circuit) which function in close coordination to help fight stress.

The neuroaffect circuit is comprised of the brain, the autonomic nervous system, and gut. It is responsible for controlling sleep, mood, and cognition. Any imbalance in this circuit can lead to insomnia, lack of concentration, depression, neurotransmitter imbalance, stress intolerance, mood swings, and anxiety.

Anxiety is your body’s normal reaction to stress. Constant stressful situations can trigger anxiety. Though a little anxiety can be helpful in preparing you for the upcoming situations in life, being overly anxious can exert more stress on your body, which can give rise to several health issues.

With this research linking anxiety to a higher risk of developing stroke, it is even more important to keep the neuroaffect circuit in balance. As the six circuits of the NEM are interlinked, any disturbance in the neuroaffect circuit can affect the entire response system leading to unpleasant symptoms. This can also create stress on your body making you feel fatigued.

Practicing yoga, meditation and breathing exercises are known to relax the entire body, especially the nervous system, which can help relieve stress and anxiety, thus reducing the risk of developing stroke.

Risk of Stroke Facts

The risk of stroke is higher in womenIn the United States, over 133,000 people are killed each year making it the fourth leading cause of death, and a leading cause of serious and long-term adult disability, according to the National Stroke Association. A stroke happens when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or it bursts, so oxygen are not reaching the brain, and killing brain cells and tissues, according to the American Stroke Association.

Women are more adversely affected by stroke than men because as the baby-boomer generation ages, women increasingly outlive men and their lifetime risk of stroke therefore becomes higher. Also, women are also more likely to be living alone as widows so that when they suffer a stroke, research has shown that they are more likely to be institutionalized and have poorer recovery than men.


Source: published online December 19, 2013 in Stroke.

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