Worrying too much harms heart health

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Middle-aged men with higher levels of anxiety and worry may be at higher biological risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes as they age, according to research published in the
«Journal of the American Heart Association».

‘The findings indicate that higher levels of anxiety or worry among men are related to biological processes that can lead to heart and metabolic disease. Such associations may present much earlier in life than is commonly believed – potentially during childhood or early adulthood,” he stated. Leena Lee, lead author of the study and researcher at the
Boston University (USA).

To determine the relationship between anxiety and risk factors for cardiometabolic disease over time, researchers analyzed data from participants in a study of aging in men.

The analysis included 1,561 men (97% white), who had a mean age of 53 in 1975. The men completed baseline assessments for neuroticism and worry and did not have cardiovascular disease or cancer at the time. A personality questionnaire assessed neuroticism on a scale from 0 to 9.

Additionally, a worry assessment tool asked how often they worried about each of 20 items, where 0 meant never and 4 meant all the time.

“The neuroticismo is a personality trait characterized by a tendency to interpret situations as threatening, stressful, and/or overwhelming. People with high levels of neuroticism are likely to experience negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger, more intensely and more frequently,” explains Lee. “The Worry refers to our attempts to solve a problem whose future outcome is uncertain and potentially positive or negative. Worry can be adaptive, for example, when it leads us to constructive solutions. However, worry can also be harmful, especially when it becomes uncontrollable and interferes with our daily functioning.”

Participants with higher levels of emotional instability had a higher number of high-risk cardiometabolic factors

After their initial evaluation, the men underwent physical exams and blood tests every 3 to 5 years until they died or left the study. The research team used follow-up data up to 2015. During follow-up visits, they measured seven cardiometabolic risk factors: systolic blood pressure (top number); diastolic blood pressure (bottom number); total cholesterol; triglycerides; obesity (assessed by body mass index); fasting blood sugar levels; and the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), a marker of inflammation.

A risk factor for cardiometabolic disease was considered to be in the high-risk range if the test results for the risk factor were higher than the cut-off point established by national guidelines, or if the participant was taking any medication to control that risk factor (such as cholesterol-lowering drugs).

“Having six or more high-risk cardiometabolic markers suggests that an individual is very likely to develop or has already developed cardiometabolic disease,” Lee notes.

The study saw that, between ages 33 to 65, the average number of high cardiometabolic risk factors increased by about one per decade, with an average of 3.8 risk factors at age 65, followed by a further increase slow per decade after age 65.

Higher levels of worry were associated with a 10% greater chance of having six or more risk factors for cardiometabolic disease after adjusting for demographic characteristics

At all ages, participants with higher levels of emotional instability had a greater number of factors high-risk cardiometabolic

Higher neuroticism was associated with a 13% greater chance of having six or more risk factors for cardiometabolic disease, after adjusting for demographic characteristics (such as income and education) and family history of heart disease.

Higher levels of worry were associated with a 10% greater chance of having six or more risk factors for cardiometabolic disease after adjusting for demographic characteristics.

“We found that the risk of cardiometabolic disease increased as men got older, from 30 to 80 years, regardless of anxiety levels, while men who had higher levels of anxiety and worry were consistently more likely to develop cardiometabolic disease over time than those with lower levels. anxiety or worry,” says Lee.

The researchers did not have data on whether the participants were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Standard evidence-based treatment for anxiety disorders includes psychotherapy or medication, or a combination of both.

“While we don’t know if treating anxiety and worry can reduce cardiometabolic risk, people who are anxious and prone to worry should take increased attention to your cardiometabolic health. For example, by getting routine health checkups and being proactive in managing your risk levels for cardiometabolic diseases (such as take medicine for high blood pressure and maintain a healthy weight), may decrease the likelihood of developing cardiometabolic diseases,” Lee said.

It is not clear to what extent the results of this analysis are generalizable to the public, since the study participants were all men and almost all white. Also, although the participants were followed for four decades, they were middle-aged when the study began.

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