Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Anxious about angina

Heart Beat

Anxious about angina

Physical exertion or stress can precipitate angina (an-JIE-nuh or AN-juh-nuh) — pain or pressure in the chest, shoulders, arms, or jaw that goes away with rest or the use of nitroglycerin or another nitrate. Anxiety and depression may make it easier for angina to occur.

In a study of 788 Seattle-area men and women with angina, those with high scores on anxiety tests were almost five times as likely to have daily or weekly angina as those with low anxiety scores. Depression tripled the chances of having frequent bouts of angina (Circulation, published online June 29, 2009). It is possible that anxiety and depression heighten a person's sensitivity to pain or amplify pain sensations.

Can treating anxiety and depression ease angina? This study can't answer that question. Even if it doesn't, it makes sense to address them since they diminish quality of life regardless of how they affect the heart.

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