Everyone experiences bouts of anxiety now and then. But when it's elevated or reaches chronic levels, it may affect your heart down the road.
That is the finding of a new study that has directly linked greater anxiety levels to higher risk of having a stroke.
The study is the first in which researchers linked anxiety and stroke independent of other factors such as depression. Anxiety disorders are one of the most prevalent mental health problems. Symptoms include feeling unusually worried, stressed, nervous or tense.
Researchers tracked strokes through hospital or nursing home reports and death certificates. After accounting for other factors, they found that even modest increases in anxiety were associated with greater stroke risk.
"People in the highest third of anxiety symptoms had a 33 percent higher stroke risk than those with the lowest levels," said Maya Lambiase, study author and cardiovascular behavioural medicine researcher at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pittsburgh.
People with high anxiety levels are more likely to smoke and be physically inactive, possibly explaining part of the anxiety-stroke link. Higher stress hormone levels, heart rate or blood pressure could also be factors, Lambiase added.
In contrast to anxiety, depression is a persistent feeling of hopelessness, dejection and lack of energy, among other symptoms.
The findings of the study have been published in the American Heart Association's official journal Stroke.