(HealthDay News) — People with high levels of health anxiety have about a 70% increased risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD), after taking into account other known risk factors, according to research published online in BMJ Open.

Line Iden Berge, MD, PhD, from the division of psychiatry at the University of Bergen in Norway, and colleagues collected data on 7052 people who took part in the Norwegian Hordaland Health Study. The participants, all of whom were born between 1953 and 1957, completed two questionnaires about their health, lifestyle, and education. In addition, between 1997 and 1999, they had a physical exam that included blood tests, weight, height, and blood pressure. Levels of anxiety about health were also assessed. All of the participants were followed through 2009.

Berge’s team found that 710 participants had scores that identified them as anxious about their health. Over the years, 234 participants developed IHD during follow-up. The average time to the first incident was just over 7 years. The proportion of those who developed IHD was 6.1 among health anxiety cases vs 3.0% of non-cases. After adjustments for established cardiovascular risk factors, the hazard ratio for IHD among cases with health anxiety was 1.73, an association that followed a dose-response pattern.

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“This finding corroborates and extends the understanding of anxiety in various forms as a risk factor for IHD,” the authors write. “New evidence of negative consequences over time underlines the importance of proper diagnosis and treatment for health anxiety.”

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  1. Berge LI, Skogen JC, Sulo G, et al. Health anxiety and risk of ischaemic heart disease: a prospective cohort study linking the Hordaland Health Study (HUSK) with the Cardiovascular Diseases in Norway (CVDNOR) project. BMJ Open. 3 November 2016. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012914