Anxiety hits women harder after heart attack

A heart attack can make anyone anxious, but women experience greater anxiety than men do after heart attacks, a pattern that is consistent across four continents, a new study notes.

The higher level of anxiety among women is not connected to geography, to demographic factors like marital status and education or to medical condition, according to a report published in the July issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

Anxiety -- the emotional response to a threat -- may be an expected and common psychological reaction to a heart attack, but its effects go beyond the patient's mood, say Debra K. Moser, R.N., D.N.Sc., and colleagues. People with higher anxiety levels also have higher levels of complications in the hospital, like second heart attacks, blood vessel blockages, irregular heartbeat and death.

To learn more about the gender differences in anxiety after heart attacks, Moser, a professor of nursing at the University of Kentucky, and her international team recruited 912 patients from Australia, England, Japan, South Korea and the United States. Each patient answered a short, six-question test which reliably measures anxiety. The standard score for non-patients is 0.35 and for psychiatric inpatients it's 1.5. When tested within 72 hours of their heart attacks, women in the study scored an average of 0.76 on the scale while men scored 0.57.

Moser says that difference was enough to see variations between men and women in the medical complications they experienced. And, she notes, that relationship held regardless of where patients lived.

"There were no statistically significant differences in anxiety among the countries," she says. "Women from a variety of cultural backgrounds have higher levels of anxiety than men, and the threatening nature of a heart attack produces anxiety regardless of the patient's cultural background."

This finding confirmed earlier studies that showed no wide cross-cultural differences in the presenc

Contact: Debra K. Moser
Center for the Advancement of Health

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