Psychological effects of heart conditions

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From cardiac arrest to minor arrhythmias, heart conditions affect many people in the United States. For the less fortunate, heart disease alone is the cause of nearly a quarter of all deaths each year. Suffering from a heart condition can be particularly worrisome. Ironically, people who suffer from these conditions should be under as little stress as possible, but the very condition they are suffering from causing them to worry even more.


This worry leads many people who suffer from heart conditions to also struggle with comorbid anxiety disorders. Interestingly, research shows that anxiety can also increase the risk of developing heart disease. In other words, these worriers could potentially make themselves sicker. Studies show having anxiety over your health can increase the risk of heart disease by 73 percent.

You don’t have to be obsessively worrying about just your health to boost this risk, though. Anxiety in general also increases the risk of heart disease by 52 percent. Other studies have found that the predisposal to heart disease starts far beyond the years in one’s life when people typically start worrying about their health. For instance, men who suffer from anxiety in their late teens or early twenties have more than a two-fold risk of suffering from cardiac arrest or heart disease later in life.

Treating anxiety — whether it stems from early in one’s life or directly from the heart condition — can be a difficult feat. Often, it can be hard just to diagnose whether anxiety is causing arrhythmias and other heart issues or if it is an organic heart condition. Beyond diagnosis, anxiety can lead to a greater risk of blockages and strokes. The standard treatment of anxiety is usually prescription benzodiazepines. Aside from such medications, sufferers of heart conditions can employ more natural remedies to treat their woes, too. Some supplements, like St. John’s Wort, may interfere with other treatment medications. So, it’s important to run them by your doctor first.


While anxiety is certainly problematic for sufferers of heart conditions, depression is an even bigger issue. Among the general population, just 10 percent of people suffer with depression. Whereas, 33 percent of people who have experienced heart attacks do. Major depression also impacts some 15 percent of people with heart disease and 20 percent who undergo coronary artery bypass graft surgery.

Depression can cripple people who struggle with heart conditions. They may feel as though they are inherently weaker. They might also find it difficult to relate to others or talk to their family and friends about what they’re going through. A few trips to a psychiatrist serve many of these patients well. These doctors can also prescribe antidepressants when necessary. Other interventions can be helpful in treating depression while also supporting the physical health of a person with a heart condition, such as moderate, regular exercise. Mindfulness meditation can also improve symptoms of both depression and anxiety while reducing blood pressure, which can ultimately improve risk factors involved with many heart conditions.

Cite this page: Danielle Bosley, "Psychological effects of heart conditions," in, January 30, 2017, (accessed March 22, 2023).