Background: To examine prospectively the association between self-reported symptoms of phobic anxiety and subsequent risk of coronary heart disease, a 2-year follow-up study was conducted of a cohort of 33,999 US male health professionals, aged 42 to 77 years in 1988, who were free of diagnosed cardiovascular disease at baseline. Levels of phobic anxiety were assessed using the Crown-Crisp index, a short, diagnostic self-rating scale used for common phobias. Main outcomes were incidents of coronary heart disease consisting of nonfatal myocardial infarction (MI) and fatal coronary heart disease (CHD).
Methods and results: One hundred sixty-eight incident cases of CHD occurred during 2 years of follow-up (128 cases of nonfatal MI and 40 cases of fatal CHD). The age-adjusted relative risk of fatal CHD among men with highest levels of phobic anxiety (scoring 4 or higher on the Crown-Crisp index) was 3.01 (95% confidence interval, 1.31 to 6.90) compared with men with the lowest levels of anxiety (scoring 0 or 1 on the phobia index). Risk of fatal CHD increased with levels of phobic anxiety (P trend = .002). When fatal CHD was further categorized into sudden and nonsudden coronary death, the excess risk was confined to sudden death (relative risk among men scoring 3 or higher on the phobia index was 6.08; 95% confidence interval, 2.35 to 15.73). No association was found between phobic anxiety and risk of nonfatal MI. These findings remained essentially unchanged after adjusting for a broad range of cardiovascular risk factors.
Conclusions: The specificity, strength, and dose-response gradient of the association, together with the consistency and biological plausibility of the experimental and epidemiologic evidence, support a strong causal association between phobic anxiety and fatal CHD.