Harvard Mental Health Letter

Anxiety and heart disease

New research suggests there may be a link, but it's not clear why.

While there is a well-known relationship between major depression and cardiovascular disease, much less is known about how anxiety disorders affect the heart. Various studies have found that 24% to 31% of patients with cardiovascular disease have symptoms of anxiety. Moreover, severe anxiety — which may manifest as a panic attack — can mimic a heart attack (see "A panic attack or a heart attack?" below). One analysis of studies involving people admitted to emergency rooms for chest pain found that 22% of those who underwent cardiovascular testing had panic disorder rather than heart disease.

Most research on anxiety and heart disease is flawed, relying on participants' recollections or single objective "snapshot" assessments rather than using structured interviews to diagnose anxiety. Many studies have also lacked controls for factors such as lifestyle that could affect heart disease risk.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »