It is tempting to think of anxiety disorder as a purely psychological problem.
The primary symptom is anxiety, after all.
But a new study demonstrates how physical health affects anxiety disorder and vice versa. Especially when it comes to chronic conditions.
Australian and Dutch scientists conducted a review of the scientific literature to answer two questions:
First, whether those with chronic conditions were more likely than their peers to suffer from anxiety disorders.
Second, whether those with these chronic conditions and anxiety experience worse disease outcomes than those with chronic conditions alone.
They found 53 studies between 1990 and 2018, 29 that answered the first question and 24 that answered the second.
The first 29 studies addressed seven specific chronic medical conditions: namely, asthma, congenital heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and sickle cell disease.
They concluded that the occurrence of anxiety disorder was significantly higher in people with each of these conditions than in those that were healthy.
In general, while only 6.5% of healthy people had an anxiety disorder, between 20 and 50% of those with one of these chronic conditions did.
The second 24 studies revealed more serious disease symptoms and outcomes for those with anxiety disorders. While they could find no studies on the relationship between anxiety disorder and epilepsy or congenital heart disease, the other findings were interesting:
1. Those with asthma and anxiety disorder were more likely than those with only asthma to have more severe asthma symptoms.
2. Those whose inflammatory bowel disease was accompanied by anxiety disorder had worse symptoms than those without anxiety.
3. Anxiety disorder was associated with worse pain in people with arthritis.
4. Anxiety disorder was associated with longer hospitalizations in people with sickle cell disease.
The studies were mixed with regards to diabetes, with some reporting poor metabolic control, while others reported improved adherence to a treatment regime, for people with an anxiety disorder.