US cardiologists are targeting stress and anxiety as key factors contributing to cardiovascular diseases, according to studies made public at a scientific conference here.
People who cut their stress levels and keep them under control face a 60-percent lower chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke than constant worriers, said a report unveiled Saturday at the 57th annual conference of the American College of Cardiology.
Out of 516 heart patients examined during the three-to-four-year study, 44 suffered non-fatal heart attacks while 19 people died, said Yinong Young-Xu of the Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation of Massachusetts, the lead author of the study.
The link between anxiety and the number of fatal and non-fatal heart attacks suffered by patients under observation has remained unchanged compared to other factors affecting the heart such as age, marital status, blood pressure and smoking.
"Psychological stress, be it depression or anxiety, has been linked to the progression of atherosclerosis, development of atherothrombosis, and increased risk of arrhythmias," he said.
"These findings should reinforce to cardiologists a need to attend to the whole patient by paying attention to psychological problems in addition to cardiovascular disease," he argued.
In the course of the study, patients were divided into three groups according to their baseline level of anxiety -- high, intermediate and low.
Heart conditions in the study included irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries), and atherothrombosis (blood accumulation leading to clotting).
Researchers asked patients about their feelings and moods, sleep patterns, irregularity in bowel or stomach functions and other stress markers.
In addition to anxiety, the questionnaire also measured depression, hostility and physical complaints.
Scientists have concluded that constant stress and anxiety can even affect the rhythm of the heartbeat, heightening the risk of heart disease.
A separate study presented by Juan Marques of Central University of Venezuela in Caracas showed that patients might be especially vulnerable if they have a history of heart attack, family history of sudden death or coronary disease, and cardiovascular risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity or a sedentary lifestyle.
Even sombre events such as the anniversary of the death of a family member can lead to heart problems with fatal outcomes, particularly among men, the research indicated.
"We've all known close family members who have died within hours, weeks, months or years of each other," Marques said.
"This and previous studies have indicates that cardiovascular mortality is affected by the anticipation or experience of psychological factors and symbolic occasions."
The findings presented by Yinong follow a report published last year by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
That study pointed out people with heart conditions living in permanent anxiety have a twice higher chance of suffering a heart attack or to die compared to those who live in calm.