A new study has found that women with anxiety have a reduction in blood flow to the heart during physical activity, and doctors often may miss heart disease signs as anxiety masks the symptoms.
The researchers found that women with anxiety are 75 percent more likely to have heart disease, compared to women without anxiety. Furthermore, these women have a reduction of blood flow to the heart during exercise.
Study author Kim Lavoie said, “If you’re a woman and you say you’re tired, short of breath, and really anxious about it, and you have no pre-existing heart disease, it’s possible that doctors are confounding the two problems. Doctors may be more likely to attribute those symptoms to anxiety than heart disease. So, in other words, a diagnostic bias may occur.”
The researchers report that anxiety is found to be higher in women than men, and that it can lead to worsened cardiac outcomes, too.
Additionally, women experience different symptoms than men when it comes to heart attack, which can lead to complications or even death, if women are unaware of these symptoms.
When an anxiety or mood disorder is paired with heart disease, it can cause greater confusion as to what the symptoms are related to, thus putting the individual at risk.
The study looked at 2,300 patients who underwent exercise stress tests and psychiatric interviews. The exercise test examined the reduction of blood flow, which leads to shortness of oxygen to the heart and can have a negative effect on mood disorders and anxiety.
Women with anxiety showed a greater reduction of blood flow to the heart, which could reveal undiagnosed heart disease.
Dr. Karla Kurrelmeyer, a cardiologist at Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center, added, “Women with anxiety should be treated seriously because frequently they have ischemia . . . and doctors need to do more diagnostic testing to make sure symptoms are due to anxiety instead of obstructive coronary artery disease.”
Lavoie concluded, “Clinicians need to recognize that anxiety presents with the same symptoms as heart disease and can mask the symptoms of heart disease if you don’t rule that out with objective tests.”