If You Have Anxiety, You Might Have This Undiagnosed Heart Condition

Americans have recently been trying to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness. Mental health is being more talked about than ever. People have begun discussing things like anxiety disorders and depression on a conversational level rather than just with their doctors. As it turns out, many people deal with anxiety at some point in their lives.

The reason why anxiety affects one person and not another has always been a bit confusing. However, studies have shown that some people who have anxiety also suffer from this surprising heart condition (check out page 3) — and if you have it, you might not even know it.

Anxiety affects about 40 million adults

man in casual clothes abandoned lost in depression

This is a very real threat to your mental health. | iStock.com/OcusFocus

About 18% of the population (40 million Americans) suffers from anxiety at some point during their lives. Anxiety is known to be influenced by various factors. Family history, brain chemistry, and life events are a few well-known causes of anxiety. However, it’s been difficult to tell why one person’s brain chemistry causes anxiety but another person’s does not, or why some people suffer from different forms of anxiety than others.

Next: You might be confusing anxiety for this. 

Your ‘stress’ could actually be an anxiety disorder

Stressed business woman in the office

Is it stress? | iStock.com/kieferpix

Often, adults confuse stress and anxiety because the two have very similar symptoms. If you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder but you insist that it’s just stress, you’ll likely never see yourself get better. An easy way to determine the difference between the two is to ask yourself where the stress is coming from. Stress is caused by external factors, such as work or financial troubles. Anxiety is caused by internal factors — it’s a battle with your own mind. If you can’t pinpoint where your “stress” is coming from, it could be an anxiety disorder.

Next: Anxiety might be connected to this heart condition. 

Anxiety could be connected to a mitral valve prolapse

Human Heart Anatomy Illustration. 3D render

Anxiety and your heart are very connected. | iStock.com/Nerthuz

Studies have shown that anxiety disorders could be connected to a heart condition called mitral valve prolapse. MVP occurs when the two flaps of the mitral valve (the valve that pumps blood from the left atrium to the left ventricle of the heart) don’t close properly. As a result, blood can be forced back into the atrium instead of pushed through to the ventricle. The condition is typically harmless but in rare cases can lead to congestive heart failure. It affects about 2% of the population.

Through the years, studies have found a link between those who have anxiety disorders and those with MVP. One study found that 34% of anxiety patients had MVP, and 5% had a “probable diagnosis” of MVP. It has raised questions about whether or not the heart condition could be an underlying cause of anxiety.

Next: The relationship between anxiety and MVP is not well understood.

The relationship between anxiety and MVP is not completely clear

Stethoscope sitting on an red ECG printout

The connection is a difficult one to prove. | iStock.com/RTimages

Although studies have found a link between MVP and anxiety, it has been difficult to determine why that is. Some experts suggest that symptoms of MVP, such as heart palpitations, a fast heart rate, and heart murmur, can lead one to develop a panic disorder because those symptoms cause constant worry of a heart abnormality. Others suggest that it has to do with a malfunction in the autonomic nervous system and its relationship with both anxiety and the heart.

Next: The nervous system plays this role in MVP. 

Here’s how your nervous system can play a role in MVP

Brain lobes in different colors

Your nervous system is at work. | iStock.com/alex-mit

The autonomic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that is not under conscious control. A malfunction in this part of the nervous system can lead to anxiety. But in addition to that, a dysfunction in the autonomic nervous system has also been connected to MVP (hence a MVP patient’s heart palpitations and fast heart rate). Anxiety and MVP together are known as MVP syndrome. Symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, and anxiety or panic attacks.

Next: You might be unaware you have MVP. 

If you have MVP, you probably don’t even know it

disease diagnosis

This may be the mysterious reason behind your health issues. | iStock.com/vadimguzhva

Most people who have MVP go their entire lives without ever experiencing a symptom. If you don’t ever feel palpitations, you likely would never see a reason to go to the doctor. However, if you suffer from anxiety and have never been able to figure out why, it’s possible that MVP could be tied into it. Luckily, MVP is typically nothing to panic about, but a diagnosis could provide some answers for you about your anxiety.

Next: Anxiety has these effects on the heart with or without MVP. 

Anxiety can have long-term effects on your heart

Doctor drawing ecg heartbeat chart

The link between the two diseases is clear. | iStock.com/BrianAJackson

Whether you suffer from MVP or not, anxiety can have negative long-term effects on your heart. Doctors at Johns Hopkins believe that anxiety can have just as serious an impact on the heart as depression. Anxiety can lead to rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, and decreased heart variability. Studies suggest these can all lead to heart disease and heart attack. Anxiety can also hinder one’s heart attack recovery.

Next: You might live a shorter life than someone without anxiety. 

The lifespan of someone with anxiety could be 10 years shorter than the average American

A woman with anxiety featured image

For most, this is a shocking reality. | iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov

A study published in 2015 suggests that those suffering from mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia tend to die younger than those who do not. The study showed that someone with these mental health conditions might die as much as 10 years sooner than the average American. The results come from hundreds of international studies and decades-long research. The researchers hoped that the study would broaden people’s horizons about death and mental illness.

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