Anxiety disorders are one of the most prevalent mental health problems. Symptoms include feeling unusually worried, stressed, nervous or tense.

Over a 22 year period, researchers studied a nationally representative group of 6,019 people 25 to 74 years old in the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES I) in US.

Participants underwent an interview and took blood tests, medical examinations and completed psychological questionnaires to gauge anxiety and depression levels.

Researchers tracked strokes through hospital or nursing home reports and death certificates. After accounting for other factors, they found that even modest increases in anxiety were associated with greater stroke risk.

People in the highest third of anxiety symptoms had a 33 per cent higher stroke risk than those with the lowest levels.

"Everyone has some anxiety now and then. But when it's elevated and/or chronic, it may have an effect on your vasculature years down the road," said Maya Lambiase, study author and cardiovascular behavioural medicine researcher in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

People with high anxiety levels are more likely to smoke and be physically inactive, possibly explaining part of the anxiety-stroke link. Higher stress hormone levels, heart rate or blood pressure could also be factors, Lambiase said.

The research was published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

(Agencies)

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