How Untreated Anxiety Affects Physical Health
Each year, nearly 1 in 5 American adults suffers from an anxiety disorder. This type of disorder can include panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and specific phobias. Although anxiety disorders remain highly treatable with therapy and/or medication, fewer than 40 percent of patients with these illnesses seek professional help. Unfortunately, people with anxiety who do not get treatment put themselves at risk for not only further mental distress but also problems with their physical health.
The Physical Symptoms of Panic Attacks
Some of the most obvious physical complications of anxiety come during a panic attack. Not only do patients experience an overwhelming sense of dread during these episodes, but they also have intense physical symptoms as well. These signs can be so distressing that people believe they are having heart attacks. Common physical symptoms of panic attacks include:
- Muscle tension
- Shallow, labored breaths
- Elevated heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Throbbing headaches
In some cases, these symptoms can worsen existing conditions. For example, someone with high blood pressure can have serious complications during a panic attack and require immediate medical care.
Chronic Anxiety and the Heart
With increased blood pressure and rapid heart rate, it’s no wonder that anxiety is hard on a person’s heart. Harvard Health reports that having untreated anxiety:
- Increases a woman’s chance of having a heart attack by 59%
- Makes heart attacks 31% more deadly in women
- Triples the likelihood of heart attack in postmenopausal women
- Doubles the rate of heart attacks in adults with heart disease
While this information is scary, patients should remember that anxiety is a treatable disorder. With professional help, people with anxiety can possibly avoid being on the wrong side of these statistics.
Stress Hormones Wreak Havoc
When people experience panic attacks, their bodies go into “fight or flight” mode, which causes a person’s increased heart rate and other symptoms. During this period, the body releases a flood of stress hormones, especially cortisol and adrenaline. Chronic anxiety also causes an overproduction of these hormones. A high level of stress hormones can cause several physical problems over time, including:
- Increased risk for Cushing Syndrome
- Worsened immune functions
- Lower ability to learn
- Trouble with memory
- Weight gain
- Increased cholesterol
- Higher risk for heart disease
- Lower bone density
Although many of these problems are treatable, they can cause serious pain and discomfort. Some are even life-threatening. Rather than wait and treat the problems that stress hormones cause, patients should seek help for their anxiety disorders to level their hormones.
Trouble Sleeping Hurts the Body
Many people with anxiety disorders experience insomnia or other sleeping difficulties. The racing thoughts and worry make it difficult to fall or stay asleep. Without adequate sleep, people are more likely to develop:
- Heart disease
- Common colds and viruses
A lack of sleep also makes it more likely that a person will get into a serious accident or have a fall. For example, driving while exhausted is extremely dangerous. Exhaustion can also lead to balance and cognitive troubles. This may cause someone to fall, get hurt during exercise, or be slow to react in dangerous situations.Sometimes, sleeping difficulties cause a person to develop anxiety. Other times, the anxiety comes first. In either case, these problems can worsen one another and lead to a vicious cycle. Psychological treatments can end this cycle and get people out of danger. If you or someone you know experiences anxiety or chronic stress, reach out to the experts at GBHP. Treating the underlying problems can help reduce the risk of these physical problems, as well as make you feel better emotionally. The caring therapists at GBHP can help you find treatments that work for your needs and comfort level.