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Those Panic Attacks Could Be a Warning Sign for Older Women

10 Oct

Postmenopausal women who’ve had at least one panic attack may be at greater risk for heart disease, stroke and even death, new research suggests.The study found that older women with a history of panic attacks were four times more likely to have heart disease than women who hadn’t had a panic attack.“Women who reported at least one panic attack were at higher risk of having cardiovascular illness and death after an average of five years of follow-up. Even after controlling for other risk factors, a panic attack remained an independent risk factor on its own,” said study author Dr. Jordan Smoller, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.Symptoms of a panic attack include a sudden feeling of fear, anxiety or extreme discomfort that’s out of proportion to your current situation. Panic attacks may also be accompanied by a rapid or irregular heartbeat, sweating, hot flashes, chills, chest pain, difficulty breathing, shaking, dizziness and a feeling that you might die. About one in 10 postmenopausal women has had at least one panic attack, according to the study.

Dr. Stephen Siegel, a cardiologist at New York University Medical Center, said the study definitely raises some interesting questions, but more research needs to be done to establish a definite link between panic attacks and cardiovascular health.In the meantime, Siegel recommended that all women do whatever they can to reduce their cardiovascular disease risk factors. “Control all the known risk factors out there — hypertension, cigarette smoking, diabetes, elevated cholesterol. We can make changes in these factors and we know they make a difference,” he said.Exercise is another great — and proven — option, Siegel said. Not only does it improve your heart health by lowering blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol, but exercise can also help ease anxiety and depression, providing both a physical and psychological benefit.

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