Those who constantly worry about having a heart attack may make it more likely they will have one, says a recently released research report. The new study reveals that hypochondriacs, often called ‘health worry warts’, were twice as likely to develop chest pain or have a heart attack compared to those who were not overly anxious about their health.
The researchers noted that people with high levels of health anxiety had around 70 percent increased risk of heart disease, after taking into account other known risk factors. Even relatively low levels of health anxiety were found to increase the risk in comparison to people without symptoms of health anxiety.
However, the team behind the study cautioned that though there was a direct association between increased worry and onset of heart diseases, there was no link to suggest that worrying caused heart problems.
Because these findings cannot be explained by risks for heart disease — such as smoking, lack of physical activity, drinking alcohol or a family history of heart disease — the increased risk may be "caused by physiological effects of the anxiety itself," the researchers said.
This new evidence of negative consequences over time emphasizes the need for proper diagnosis and treatment of health anxiety, added the team. In the past, hypochondriacs were not taken seriously, but it is clear that having health anxiety is not good for you. Patients with these anxieties should be referred to mental health professionals for treatment.
The first step for people with health anxiety is to find a doctor that they really have faith in; having a caregiver you trust and who partners with you to customize the approach to your health is a priority for people who are overly worried about their health.
When most doctors encounter someone who they think is a hypochondriac, they tend to patronize and try to reassure them by saying, “it’s nothing and you’ll be fine; it’s just in your head.” But this is a problematic approach, because if you do not actually treat the anxiety, then they are going to be at risk for serious heart disease. Doctors now realize that it is a serious problem and call it ‘illness anxiety disorder'.