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Phobic anxiety increases heart disease death risk among women

DALLAS, Feb. 1 Women with phobic anxieties, such as the fear of crowded places, heights or going outside, are at higher risk for fatal heart disease than women with fewer or no anxieties, according to a report in today's Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. Several studies have suggested that psychosocial factors, such as emotions, anxiety and anger, are associated with an elevated risk of heart disease, particularly death from heart disease. Studies in men suggest that anxiety, specifically phobic anxiety, is related to sudden cardiac death, which is death that occurs within one hour of the onset of symptoms and is usually associated with a lethal rhythm disturbance.

"Since these studies have been done in men, we decided that we would look to see if there was a similar relationship in women," said the study's lead author Christine M. Albert, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, Boston. Albert and colleagues studied data from the Nurses' Health Study, a large survey about heart disease risk factors, menopausal status and lifestyle factors that has polled nurses across the U.S. every two years since 1976. In 1988, Nurses' Health Study authors surveyed 72,359 women who had no history of heart disease about phobic anxieties. They measured phobic anxiety using the Crown-Crisp index (CCI), which ranks the degree of phobic anxiety on a scale of 1 to 16, with higher scores indicating higher anxiety. These questions were used:

  • Do you have an unreasonable fear of being in enclosed spaces such as shops, lifts, etc.?
  • Do you find yourself worrying about getting some incurable illness?
  • Are you scared of heights?
  • Do you feel panicky in crowds?
  • Do you worry unduly when relatives are late in coming home?
  • Do you feel more relaxed indoors?
  • Do you dislike going out alone?
  • Do you feel uneasy traveling on buses or trains even if they are not crowded?

    Answers were Nev
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  • Contact: Carole Bullock
    carole.bullock@heart.org
    214-706-1279
    American Heart Association
    1-Feb-2005


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