According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some 6 million Americans have been diagnosed with panic disorder, a condition in which one is frequently besieged by an inexplicable, intense bout of fear that manifests itself through a range of physical ailments and lasts anywhere from 15 seconds to an hour. Besides living under the constant threat of the sudden onset of symptoms such as the shortness of breath, nausea, chest pain, trembling, and a feeling that death is imminent, panic disorder sufferers face yet another peril: coronary heart disease. A 2005 study found that people with panic disorder had double the risk of developing coronary heart disease than did the general population.1 Scientists have yet to really determine why this is true, but here are a few contributing factors to consider:

Fear can make your blood sticky. Researchers in Bonn, Germany, took a group of patients with severe anxiety and paired each of them with a healthy counterpart of the same age and sex. Every test subject was asked to give a blood sample, complete a battery of tests, and then give a second blood sample. After examining the blood, the researchers concluded that the subjects suffering from severe anxiety had much more highly activated coagulation systems, which allows their blood to clot more easily, leading to thromboses or heart attacks. 2  

The increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure common in panic attacks can tax the cardiovascular system. Although scientists have not shown a definitive link between the rise in heart rate and blood pressure experienced during a panic attack and the greater risk of heart disease, but there are some things that have been proved: Not only has high blood pressure been firmly associated with heart disease, but also a study published in a 2007 issue of Clinical Research in Cardiology determined that increased heart rate had a detrimental effect on the function and structure of the cardiovascular system.3

Self-medicating anxiety can exacerbate a bad situation Instead of seeking medical treatment, some people deal with stress by relying on drugs, alcohol, and food-three things that when consumed in excess have been shown to cause great harm to the cardiovascular system. A 2001 study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry found that while 12 percent of the general population suffered from some form of psychological disorder, the percentage spiked to 22 among smokers, 30 among drinkers, and 45 among drug abusers.4 And last year, researchers at Emory University uncovered an association between stress and overeating after observing that socially submissive female rhesus macaques were more likely than the dominant females to consume calorie-rich foods in greater amounts.5


1. Center for the Advancement of Health (2005, September 24). Panic Disorder Appears To Increase Risk Of Coronary Heart Disease. Andres Gomez-Caminero, Ph.D.
(­ /releases/2005/09/050924105015.htm)

2. University of Bonn (2008, March 26). Anxiety Linked To Blood Clots: Fear That Freezes The Blood In Your Veins. Franziska Geiser and Ursula Harbrecht.
(­ /releases/2008/03/080325111800.htm)

3. A prospective cohort study of prognostic power of N-terminal probrain natriuretic peptide in patients with non-ST segment elevation acute coronary syndromes. Clinical Research in Cardiology. Volume 96, Number 1 / January 2007. Gjin Ndrepepa, Siegmund Braun, Julinda Mehilli, Kathrin Niemöller, Albert Schömig and Adnan Kastrati.

4. Farrell, M., Howes, S., Bebbington, P., et al (2001) Nicotine, alcohol and drug dependence and psychiatric comorbidity: results of a national household survey. British Journal of Psychiatry, 179, 432–437.

5. Emory University (2008, May 14). Psychological Stress Linked To Overeating, Monkey Study Shows. Mark Wilson, PhD.
(­ /releases/2008/05/080513125216.htm)