Anxiety Tied to Stroke Risk in Study
But direct link not proven
"Everyone has some anxiety now and then. But when it's elevated and/or chronic, it may have an effect on your vasculature [blood vessel system] years down the road," Lambiase said in an American Heart Association news release.
It's not clear whether anxiety itself increases the risk of stroke, or if the rise is due to the behaviors these people exhibit. For example, people with high anxiety levels are more likely to smoke and be physically inactive, the researchers noted.
In addition, higher stress hormone levels, heart rate or blood pressure could also be factors, Lambiase pointed out.
Although the study found an association between higher anxiety levels and increased risk of stroke, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Scott Krakower, the assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., said, "We know that a little bit of anxiety is a good thing, but when anxiety becomes excessive, it takes a toll on the body and needs to be treated."
As far as the risk of stroke is concerned, Krakower thinks more studies are needed to confirm the association or discredit it.
He noted that there have been studies that link stroke with depression, but the effects of anxiety haven't been studied in depth.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems people face, and a lot more people have anxiety than depression, Krakower said. "And it's often overlooked," he noted.
Treating anxiety might not lower the risk for stroke, "but it will improve your quality of life," he added.