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Stessed Out

Losing a beat

March 23, 2009|Karen Kaplan

Anxiety, depression and stress over work and the economy are all unhealthful in their own right; they're also hard on the ticker. Some of the evidence:

Depression, anxiety, chronic life stress and blood pressure all raise the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Job pressure and excessive work hours were linked to smoking in men in a study of 1,101 Australian workers.

A 33% to 40% increase in systolic blood pressure was reported among white-collar Canadian workers with high levels of cumulative work stress.

A direct link between psychological distress and poor cardiovascular health was found in a study of 6,576 Scottish men and women. Risk of heart disease and death rose by more than 50% among people with depression and anxiety. Smoking accounted for 41% of the risk; high blood pressure was responsible for an additional 13%.

Almost double the risk of heart attack or death was found in coronary artery disease patients with the highest level of anxiety. Among those patients, a 10% increased risk of heart attack or death was found in those whose anxiety rose over time.

Among 735 older men (average age 60), the 15% who were most anxious had a 30% to 40% increased risk of heart attack. The higher the degree of anxiousness, the higher the risk -- even when age, blood pressure, cholesterol and other factors were taken into account.

Anger and hostility prompt behavioral changes -- such as smoking, overeating and lack of exercise -- that increase the risk of cardiovascular events. A 19% rise in risk was found among those who were previously healthy, and a 23% increase in those who already had heart disease.

-- Karen Kaplan

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Sources: 1999 study in Circulation; 2008 essay published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2007 study in American Journal of Industrial Medicine; 2006 study in American Journal of Public Health; 2008 study in Journal of the American College of Cardiology; 2007 study in Journal of the American College of Cardiology; 2008 study in Journal of the American College of Cardiology; 2009 study in Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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