Recent research by Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital has found that women over age 51 who experience panic attacks are three times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than women who do not experience panic attacks. The study followed 3,300 healthy women ages 51 to 83 in which 10% had claimed to have had a full-blown panic attack in the previous 6 months before starting the study. Over a period of 5 years, it was found that not only were they more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, but they were also twice as likely to die within 5 years of the first panic attack.
What is a Panic Attack?
Panic attacks are episodes that occur suddenly that cause intense fear as well as physical reactions. According to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, the symptoms of a panic attack include:
Rapid heart rate
Shortness of breath
Panic attacks can last as little as 10 minutes and up to one hour. Because many of the symptoms of a panic attack mirror the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, it is difficult sometimes for people to tell the difference. Causes of panic attacks include stress, genetics or a disruption in the way the brain functions. People who experience panic attacks on a regular basis may be diagnosed as having panic disorder.
How to Manage Panic Attacks
Managing panic attacks can help to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Ways to manage panic attacks include:
Avoid caffeine, illicit drugs and alcohol, all of which can trigger or worsen panic attacks.
Learn ways to manage stress.
Learn relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation.
Get sufficient sleep each night.
Join a support group where you can share with other people who are suffering from panic attacks.
In severe cases a doctor may suggest seeing a specialist for therapy or taking a medication that will help prevent panic attacks from happening.
Managing Heart Disease Risks
Because of the link between panic attacks and heart disease, it is important for women to also carefully manage the other risk factors of heart disease. These risk factors include weight, smoking, high cholesterol, exercise level, stress and diet. Women who are experiencing menopause or are diabetic are also at a higher risk of developing heart disease. By watching these risk factors, women may be able to lower their risk of heart disease.
Because of the correlation between panic attacks and heart disease, it is important for women to monitor the other risk factors of heart disease as well as manage panic attacks. By managing all the risk factors, women may be able to lower their risk of developing heart disease.