Study Finds Men with Anxiety May Develop More Risk Factors for Heart Disease, Stroke, Diabetes

The men were assessed for neuroticism—or the tendency to interpret situations as stressful, threatening, or overwhelming—and worry levels through 2 mail-in surveys.

A new study that tracked men for 40 years found that middle-aged men with high levels of anxiety have an increased chance of developing risk factors that can lead to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes (T2D) as they age, according to an American Heart Association (AHA) press release.

Men who felt anxious or overwhelmed developed heart disease risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol at a faster rate than their less-worried peers, according to the AHA. Additionally, those with the highest levels of worry had a 10%-13% greater chance of eventually accumulating 6 or more risk factors, compounding the risks for heart disease and stroke associated with normal aging.

"Having 6 or more high-risk cardiometabolic markers suggests that an individual is very likely to develop or has already developed cardiometabolic disease," said lead study author Lewina Lee in a press release.

The research team analyzed data collected by the VA’s Boston Outpatient Clinic from 1561 men between 1975 and 2015, and participants included veterans and non-veterans with an average start age of 53 years.

The men were assessed for neuroticism—or the tendency to interpret situations as stressful, threatening, or overwhelming—and worry levels through 2 mail-in surveys. They also had physical exams, such as blood tests, that occurred every 3 to 5 years until they passed away or the study period ended. The study measured 7 cardiometabolic risk factors, including blood pressure, total cholesterol, triglycerides, obesity, fasting blood sugar, and an inflammation marker called erythrocyte sedimentation rate.

The men developed 1 cardiometabolic risk factor per decade from 33 to 65 years of age, with an average of 3.8 risk factors than their less-stressed peers at all ages and were 13% more likely to develop 6 or more cardiometabolic risk factors as they aged. The participants who said they worried a lot were 10% more likely to accumulate 6 or more cardiometabolic risk factors, according to the press release.

"Individuals with high levels of neuroticism are prone to experience negative emotions—such as fear, anxiety, sadness and anger—more intensely and more frequently," Lee said in the press release. "Worry refers to our attempts at problem-solving around an issue whose future outcome is uncertain and potentially positive or negative. Worry can be adaptive, for example, when it leads us to constructive solutions. However, worry can also be unhealthy, especially when it becomes uncontrollable and interferes with our day-to-day functioning."

Lee added that although the study did not analyze whether treating anxiety could reduce heart-related health risks, those who spend a lot of time feeling this way should be aware of their risk factors and take steps to manage them.

"For example, by having routine health checkups and being proactive in managing their cardiometabolic disease risk levels (such as taking medications for high blood pressure and maintaining a healthy weight), they may be able to decrease their likelihood of developing cardiometabolic disease,” Lee added in the press release.

REFERENCE

Men prone to anxiety, worry may develop more risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. American Heart Association. January 24, 2022. Accessed January 24, 2022. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2022/01/24/men-prone-to-anxiety-worry-may-develop-more-risk-factors-for-heart-disease-stroke-and-diabetes#:~:text=January%2024%2C%202022-,Men%20prone%20to%20anxiety%2C%20worry%20may%20develop%20more%20risk%20factors,heart%20disease%2C%20stroke%20and%20diabetes&text=Middle%2Daged%20men%20who%20worry,tracked%20men%20for%2040%20years.