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Office for National Statistics and University of Adelaide

Clinical Articles, Lead Article

Mental health problems and cardiovascular health

Common mental health problems such as stress, depression and anxiety contribute to a significant number of days of work lost in the UK. Stress, depression and anxiety were found to account for more than 15 million sick days in 2013, according to a report from the Office for National Statistics.1

A recent study published recently in Psychological Medicine2 found that people who suffer from panic disorder are 47% more likely to develop heart disease later in life. Researchers reviewed 12 studies, involving more than 1 million people and approximately 58,000 coronary heart disease cases. The review found panic disorder increased the risk of heart disease by up to 47% and the risk of heart attack by 36%.

Professor Gary Wittert, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Medicine and Director of the Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men’s Health, says while this study has found a clear association between panic disorder and coronary heart disease, the mechanisms remain uncertain.

“The link between panic disorders and heart disease remains controversial, partly due to overlapping symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations and shortness of breath,” says Professor Wittert. “Furthermore, we can’t rule out the possibility that in some people, the symptoms of a panic disorder represent a misdiagnosed heart condition…From this review it is clear that more research is needed to examine the impact of panic attacks on a sufferer’s heart,” he added.

Professor Gary Wittert (University of Adelaide)

Professor Gary Wittert (University of Adelaide)

Co-author Professor John Beltrame, a cardiologist from the University of Adelaide’s School of Medicine, says people who suffer from panic attacks and anxiety should monitor their heart health: “This new data suggesting a link between panic disorders and coronary heart disease, underscores the importance of these patients seeking medical attention for their chest pain symptoms and not merely attributing them to their panic attacks.”

“Furthermore if cardiac investigations reveal that the chest pain is due to an evolving heart attack, then early treatment may be lifesaving,” Professor Beltrame added.

References

1. Full report: sickness absence in the labour market. Office for National Statistics 2014. Available from http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_353899.pdf

2. Tully PJ, Turnbull DA, Beltrame J, Horowitz J, Cosha S, Baumeister H, Wittert GA. Panic disorder and incident coronary heart disease: a systematic review and meta-regression in 1 131 612 persons and 58 111 cardiac events. Psych Med 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291715000963

Published on: June 26, 2015

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