Research suggests there’s an indirect link between anxiety and diastolic dysfunction, a condition related to how your heart fills with blood.
Anxiety is a natural state of readiness. It’s your brain’s way of letting you know you should be prepared to escape, survive, or navigate a difficult situation.
In small doses, anxiety can be helpful. It can kick off physiological stress changes related to survival, like increasing your heart rate and suppressing your appetite.
Too much anxiety for too long can become impairing, however. It can create a number of physical and mental health challenges, including those that can affect the diastolic function of your heart.
“Dysfunction” is an indication that something isn’t working as it should.
In the case of diastolic dysfunction, it means that your heart isn’t functioning correctly during the process of diastole.
Diastole is the phase of your heartbeat when the heart muscle relaxes, allowing the chambers to fill with blood. Diastole is the counterpart to systole, which is when your heart muscle contracts and pumps blood out.
Diastolic dysfunction usually happens when your ventricles — the lower chambers of the heart — stiffen and lose their ability to keep up with blood flow from the upper heart chambers. Each chamber is called an atrium (plural: atria).
The sudden decrease in capacity of one or both ventricles can cause a backflow of blood into the atrium and your lungs, potentially leading to leaking blood vessels and fluid buildup known as edema.
Diastolic dysfunction symptoms
You may not always have symptoms of diastolic dysfunction.
You may notice:
- shortness of breath
- fluid retention or swelling in the hands, feet, legs, and abdomen (edema)
- loss of appetite
- wheezing or coughing
- heart palpitations
- sudden weight gain or loss
- exercise intolerance
Anxiety may indirectly affect diastolic dysfunction by increasing your risk for certain health conditions or counterproductive habits.
However, other research suggests that depression may have a closer relationship with diastolic dysfunction than anxiety.
In a study from 2016 of approximately 1,200 participants without preexisting heart conditions, researchers found that previous and repeated depression symptoms, but not anxiety, were associated with increased left ventricle dysfunction.
In the research, the authors noted that prolonged exposure to depression results in a chronic stress response that promotes persistent inflammation and predisposes the body to cardiovascular conditions.
Risk factors for diastolic dysfunction
Your diastolic blood pressure is the measure of the force in your arteries when your heart is relaxed (in diastole).
While blood pressure can be an indication of diastolic function, you don’t have to be experiencing diastolic dysfunction to have irregular diastolic blood pressure.
Stress, anxiety, aging, alcohol consumption, medications, and conditions like obesity can all affect this heart metric.
What’s more, an inverse relationship may exist where anxiety can increase diastolic blood pressure, but high diastolic blood pressure may also increase anxiety.
Diastolic dysfunction treatment depends on the severity of your condition and its underlying causes. Diastolic dysfunction caused by hypertension, for example, can be improved by treating hypertension.
Anxiety management techniques
If you’re concerned anxiety is a major factor in your diagnosis of diastolic dysfunction, anxiety management techniques may help.
Tips to help cope with and manage anxiety include:
- getting plenty of quality sleep
- learning relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation
- engaging in restorative self-care and taking time for yourself
- eating a balanced diet
- limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption
- developing in-the-moment coping methods like counting down from 10
- talking with a mental health professional
- participating in anxiety support groups
When your heart isn’t functioning like it should during its relaxed state of diastole, you may be living with diastolic dysfunction.
While a number of health conditions can lead to this type of cardiomyopathy, anxiety may also contribute to its development and severity.
Anxiety is a survival trait, but too much of it isn’t a good thing. It can affect your mind and also your physical health, including how well your heart pumps blood.