Have you ever been told things like, “If you don’t stop worrying so much you are going to give yourself an ulcer”? Or “You are going to give yourself a heart attack with how anxious you get.” But is this really true? Can chronic anxiety cause illness or disease? This is actually not such a simple question to answer. In this post we are going to hear what the experts have to say as well as what the current research shows about whether or not chronic stress and anxiety can lead to the development of medical problems.
Does anxiety cause physical symptoms?
It is true that stress and anxiety is often experienced through bodily symptoms. We may sweat, tremble, or feel a tightness in our chest. Other physical symptoms of anxiety may include but not be limited to: Headache, stomachache, dizziness, diarrhea, sleep disturbances, tiredness, shortness of breath, rapid heart-beat, and chest pains. For those who experience panic attacks, it can feel like you are having a heart attack or that you are dying. But do these bodily reactions and sensations ever develop into a chronic medical condition or disease? We are going to find out.
Can anxiety cause you to get a stomach ulcer?
If you do a search of the literature on this topic, it seems that the experts are in disagreement about the answer to this question. For example, The National Women’s Health and Information Center states that ulcers are caused by a germ called H. pylori and that stress does not cause ulcers but can make them worse. Yet other reports cite studies which implicate chronic anxiety in the direct cause of peptic ulcers. A 2003 issue of Psychiatric News explains that while most peptic ulcer patients have H. pylori, only a small percentage of people with this bacterium actually get an ulcer. This fact led researchers to look for the cause. In a study published in the 2003 November/December issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers did find a significant link between chronic anxiety and the development of peptic ulcers. They also found that the amount of worrying people do was correlated with their risk for peptic ulcers.
Although the experts may disagree on whether or not anxiety can induce the development of an ulcer, most would agree that anxiety may aggravate this condition.
Can anxiety cause heart disease?
Again, this is a tricky question to answer as there are so many contradictory answers cited in the literature. The answer, it seems, is largely dependent upon how the experts interpret the results of research on this topic. If you look at The National Women’s Health and Information Center website you will see that they list heart disease, high blood pressure, and abnormal heart beats as being linked to long term stress. There is some research which seems to validate this suggested link. One Dutch study reported in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry found that generalized anxiety disorder was associated with a 74 percent increased risk of cardiovascular events. Specifically they found that anxiety disorders appear to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and death in people who have heart disease.