Brain Facts

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Physical Effects of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are associated with many different physical illnesses.

Heart Disease. Anxiety has been associated with several heart risk factors, including unhealthy cholesterol levels, thicker blood vessels, and high blood pressure. Both anxiety and depression have been associated with a poorer response to treatment in heart patients, including a worse outcome after heart surgery. The role of anxiety disorders in triggering serious cardiac events remains unclear.

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance that is present in all parts of the body including the nervous system, skin, muscle, liver, intestines, and heart. It is made by the body and obtained from animal products in the diet. Cholesterol is manufactured in the liver and is needed for normal body functions including the production of steroid hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D. Excessive cholesterol in the blood contributes to atherosclerosis and subsequent heart disease. The risk of developing heart disease or atherosclerosis increases as the level of blood cholesterol increases.

Gastrointestinal Disorders. Anxiety frequently accompanies gastrointestinal conditions, particularly irritable bowel syndrome.

Pain. Chronic pain and muscle tension are common in people with anxiety disorders. Both tension and migraine headaches are associated with anxiety disorders.

Respiratory Problems. Studies report an association between anxiety in patients with obstructive lung conditions (such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis) and more frequent relapses.

Obesity. Anxiety disorders may lead to obesity, and the reverse may also be true.

Allergic Conditions. Anxiety disorders are associated with numerous allergic conditions including hay fever, eczema, hives, food allergies, and conjunctivitis.

Other Conditions. People with obsessive-compulsive disorders can experience skin problems from excessive washing, injuries from repetitive physical acts, and hair loss from repeated hair pulling (behavior known as trichotillomania).

Children with anxiety disorders often suffer from recurrent stomach aches. Anxiety is associated with a higher risk for sleep disorders in children, such as frequent nightmares, restless legs syndrome, and bruxism (the grinding and gnashing of the teeth during sleep).

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