Heart disease is easily overlooked in women with anxiety, according to a recent study that found reduced blood flow in women with mood and anxiety disorders.
Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, this study analyzed the link between anxiety disorders and reduced blood flow to the heart, called ischemia. Ischemia often causes symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath and can be a sign of serious conditions, like heart attack or heart disease. The problem is that anxiety and ischemia have similar symptoms, potentially masking heart problems in many patients.
To learn more, researchers compared blood flow in patients with and without anxiety. More than 2,300 patients were included in the study, all of whom were treated at the Montreal Heart Institute for chest pain symptoms. During their visit, participants underwent imaging and exercise stress tests, which assess blood flow to the heart. Patients also underwent psychiatric interviews to identify any mood or anxiety disorders.
After analysis, researchers found that among women without existing heart disease, women with anxiety were 75% more likely to have reduced blood flow than women without anxiety disorders. However, there was no association between anxiety and blood flow in men.
According to authors, findings may help explain differences in heart disease outcomes between women and men. Women with heart disease often have worse outcomes compared to men, especially after heart attack. Studies also show that anxiety and mood disorders are more common in women than men.
Based on recent findings, it’s possible that anxiety masks heart disease in women. Since ischemia and anxiety have similar symptoms, experts worry that it causes delays in heart disease diagnosis and life-saving treatments, particularly among women. Of course, further research is needed to confirm this association. However, findings highlight the need for better diagnosis and treatment in women, especially those with anxiety that may be at increased risk for heart disease.