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Thursday 27th October 2016

Fear of dying during a heart attack could worsen outcome

2nd June 2011

A new study has indicated that patients who have a fear of dying during a heart attack could suffer a worse outcome.


Researchers, led by scientists from Imperial College London, found that patients who reported an intense fear of dying had raised levels of TNF alpha.

The marker has been linked to inflammatory processes in the body.

They questioned 208 patients and asked them to rate their levels of fear following a severe cardiac event.

People who reported they were most distressed had higher levels of chemical markers of TNF alpha in their blood.

Heart rate variability and the stress hormone cortisol were also measured three weeks after the event.

The findings have been published in the European Heart Journal, where the authors say heightened inflammation may lead to poorer long-term health.

Professor of psychology Andrew Steptoe, who was part of the study team, said: “Large inflammatory responses are known to be damaging to the heart, and to increase the risk of longer-term cardiac problems such as having another heart attack.

“Fear of dying is not just an emotional response, but is linked into the biological changes that go on during acute cardiac events.

“This is an observational study, so we do not know whether helping people overcome their fears would improve the clinical outlook.”

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “What we need to know now is whether we can allay people's fears at the time of a heart attack and whether this actually translates into better outcomes in the long term.”


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