Heart attack: how fears save lives

Fears protect those affected by a heart attack

Anxiety is a natural perception that is supposed to protect us from danger, but can also take on pathological proportions in the form of so-called anxiety disorders. However, this pathologically increased fear can also be beneficial in certain situations. A team of researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the Helmholtz Zentrum München found that patients who generally suffer from severe anxiety have a higher chance of surviving a heart attack.

People with increased anxiety take the symptoms of a heart attack sooner and can be treated more quickly, which improves their chances of survival, according to the TUM. In his current study, the research team led by Professor Karl-Heinz Ladwig from the Technical University and Helmholtz Zentrum München was able to demonstrate that people with an anxiety disorder react more quickly to a heart attack and go to an emergency room, which significantly reduces the risk of fatalities. The researchers published the results of their study in the specialist journal "Clinical Research in Cardiology".

Fear is a protective mechanism

"Unfortunately, people with anxiety disorders have strong fears that occur regardless of any real danger," the scientists explain. Anxiety often arises in everyday situations, which can put a lot of strain on your life and also lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. In acute emergencies, however, fear has also been an effective protective mechanism since time immemorial, emphasize Prof. Ladwig and colleagues. Anxiety disorders can actually help with a heart attack.

Chances of survival in a heart attack were examined

Using the data from 619 infarction patients from the MEDEA study (Munich Examination of Delay in Patients Experiencing Acute Myocardial Infarction), the scientists analyzed possible connections between anxiety disorders and the chances of survival in a heart attack. The subjects were interviewed in the hospital within 24 hours of leaving the intensive care unit and further data such as the arrival time in the clinic and the course of the disease were collected, according to the TUM.

Early treatment lowers the risk of death

The decisive factor for successful countermeasures in the event of a heart attack is, above all, treatment that is initiated as early as possible. "The earlier drug therapy begins after an infarction, the less damage to the heart, the later health restrictions and the likelihood of dying," the experts explain. The data analysis showed that people with an anxiety disorder reacted faster in the acute heart attack situation and came to the emergency rooms earlier.

Two hours earlier in the emergency room

According to the researchers, around 12 percent of those affected in the study suffered from an anxiety disorder. There was a particularly clear difference in the timing of hospital admission between female infarct patients with and without anxiety disorders, according to the TUM. On average, the latter would have reached the clinic 112 minutes after the onset of an infarction, while the comparison group would have taken about two hours longer without an anxiety disorder. It is known from scientific studies that in the case of an acute heart attack, every half hour is crucial for survival, emphasizes Prof. Ladwig.

Increased chances of surviving an anxiety disorder

The researchers were able to demonstrate the protective effect of anxiety disorders only in women and not in men, but there was also a positive trend in the latter. According to the TUM, men with anxiety disorder were treated 48 minutes earlier on average than subjects without anxiety disorder. "People with anxiety disorders have a higher risk of an infarct, but they tend to survive it," says Prof. Ladwig.

Take those affected seriously

An anxiety disorder can, according to the results of the researchers, have advantages. "People with anxiety disorders can often react more sensitively to their health needs," explains the study director. Doctors should be aware of this and those affected should always be taken seriously, warned Prof. Ladwig. Also, the people with anxiety disorder are "more decisive when it comes to accepting help" and in the end, "one illness can also help to protect against another serious illness."

However, according to the scientists, people with anxiety disorder pay a high mental price for their survival advantage. Because anxiety patients suffer significantly more from stress, extreme tiredness and limited general well-being - this is also evident from the current study. (fp)

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