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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fear that Freezes the Blood in Your Veins

"The blood froze in my veins" or "My blood curdled" – these common figures of speech can be taken literally, according to the latest studies. For it turns out that intense fear and panic attacks can really make our blood clot and increase the risk of thrombosis or heart attack.
Earlier studies showed that stress and anxiety can influence coagulation.A Bonn-based research team around Franziska Geiser (from the Clinic and Policlinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy) and Ursula Harbrecht (from the Institute of Experimental Haematology and Transfusion Medicine) have been the first to conduct a very careful examination of coagulation in patients with anxiety disorders.

In the coagulation system two mechanisms operate that are indispensable to life and normally work in opposite directions, each counterbalancing the other. First, coagulation involves a thickening of the blood so that a plug can form and prevent excessive bleeding from damaged vessels. Second, there is "fibrinolysis", a process that keeps the blood fluid and breaks down clots. In the case of the anxiety-disorder patients, however, the researchers observed through close analysis of the blood an activation of coagulation accompanied by an inhibition of fibrinolysis. For these types of patients, the coagulation system goes out of balance as the coagulation tendency rises – possibly with dangerous consequences. In extreme cases the imbalance can lead to blockage of a coronary artery.

The increased coagulation tendency could, says Franziska Geiser, be the "missing link" that explains why anxiety patients have a statistically higher risk of dying from heart disease by a factor of 3 or 4. link