If we say that someone is afraid of heart attacks, the truth is that most people will understand and understand, and even share, this fear. Not surprisingly, heart problems are one of the most common causes of death.
However, as a rule, it is a fear that we have if we are faced with a situation in which we have discomfort or unusual or decontextualized symptoms: as a rule, we live our daily life normally and without generating any interruption of our daily life.
But there are people for whom the fear of suffering from a heart problem like a heart attack (among other ailments) generates such a level of anxiety that they must avoid any action that triggers an activation, to the point that they may see their lives severely limited by fear. These are people with cardiophobia, A psychological disorder which we will discuss below.
What is cardiophobia?
We call cardiophobia phobia or panic while suffering from a type of heart disorder, the most common fear being a heart attack.
While this fear is something that can be perfectly understandable to us, the truth is that we are not faced with simple fear or worry in the face of confused evidence: we are talking about a very limiting phobia that generates a great discomfort.
Regardless of the phobia, cardiophobia implies the existence of a reaction of fear, panic and extreme anxiety to the appearance of a certain stimulus or a certain situation, be this irrational reaction (And the very people who suffer from it usually see it as such) or disproportionate to the danger posed by what leads to it.
Symptoms of cardiophobia are those of any similar phobia; anxiety about this stimulus usually generates intense activation of our body, Causing physiological symptoms which may lead to the onset of anxiety attacks.
Among these symptoms are the dizziness, tachycardia, hyperventilation, sweating, fainting, tremors or even the appearance of sensations which make one think of the idea of losing control of one’s own body, of losing one’s sanity, or even of dying.
The existence of this fear of the dreaded stimulus prompts the person to make great efforts to avoid the situations in which it may appear or the stimulus or the elements related to it, which, depending on the stimulus, can lead to a major limitation in the life of the patient.
In the case of cardiophobia as we said above, the phobia in question is to suffer or suffer from heart disease, therefore he will tend to avoid all these situations which facilitate the suffering of a cardiac alteration, Including anything that can move our hearts at a different rate than usual.
Cardiophobia is also a type of phobia that it may be associated with obsessive symptoms, With frequent checks of his own condition in order to relieve anxiety. You may also find a connection with hypochondria, as it is not uncommon for these topics to come to express belief in being sick.
Interestingly, the same phobic reaction to the dreaded stimulus will increase the anxiety experienced by people with cardiophobia, as one of the physiological symptoms of anxiety is tachycardia. This generates great suffering which will escalate, and this makes it more likely that the subject will end up suffering from an anxiety attack.
Day to day troubles
Suffering from cardiophobia can be very disabling, as anxiety arouses a type of stimulation that we can hardly control in our daily life: our heartbeat.
In this sense, the subject will tend to avoid anything that can cause a variation or an alteration in his heart rate: it is common for him to stop doing any type of sport, to avoid having sex or avoid consuming any food or drink that can be exciting.
In severe cases, there may be a tendency to isolate and to give up leisure, even work, to be able to cause stress or anxiety that generates a heart disorder. Even in some very severe cases, there may be a tendency to clinophilia or lie down and lie down.
In addition, in many cases, the existence of cardiophobia can lead to the conduct of obsessive behaviors, such as constantly checking heart rate or blood pressure with the slightest exertion (and even comparing the beat). Current with previous states or with that of other people).
Likewise, and in a manner similar to that of people suffering from hypochondria, “doctor shopping” behaviors may appear, that is to say go again and again to various medical centers and doctors in order to assess their condition. It is also possible (although less usual) for the opposite behavior to occur: for him to refuse to go to the hospital for fear of being confirmed for possible heart disease.
Causes of this phobia
As with other phobias, the exact causes of cardiophobia are not known, although cardiophobia is considered to have a multicausal and multifactorial origin (i.e. there is no single cause but a series of factors must be added). However, there are several hypotheses that seek to explain why this phobia and others can arise.
First of all, we must consider that we are faced with an embarrassment or fear which, although irrational and exaggerated, has a function: that of avoiding evil. In this sense, it could be considered a phobia similar to those of pain, blood and injections. However, unlike fear of spiders or heights, fear of heart disease has a strong cognitive component, so although its origin may be based on a partly inherited desire for survival, it is generally considered that behind cardiophobia exist a socio-cultural learning process.
One possible explanation is learning or experiencing that a loved one or someone you know has suffered a traumatic heart attack or heart event that resulted in death or great suffering. Whether it occurs in childhood or adulthood, knowledge of that person’s symptoms, suffering or death may be associated with a change in heart rate, which will lead to learning and while rhythms other than usual involve dangerous and even fatal heart disease.
Another possible factor with great influence can be found in the learning of patterns and attitudes towards health through parenting patterns or the social environment, even without having had direct experience. In fact, knowing that heart disease is one of the most common causes of death is a fact that can trigger anxiety and fear of suffering (which is accentuated if there is also previous aversive experiences).
Considering these conditions and this learning, we can generate a cognitive scheme in which the tachycardia-cardiac problem relationship is maintained to the maximum. In situations in which there is an altered heartbeat, for example in sports, in our psyche this scheme is activated and a false alarm is triggered which causes us anxiety in order to lead us to the avoidance response .
In this case, it must also be taken into account Reiss’s expectation modelAccording to which the phobia persists because being exposed to the feared situation causes the subject’s expectation of anxiety and danger of his own symptoms to exceed or confirm his fear. In this case, the anxiety it causes in the subject generates an increase in symptoms such as tachycardia, which would cause the phobia to remain active.
Although cardiophobia is a complex phobia, like other phobias, it can be treated in consultation. In this sense, once the actual coronary artery disease has been ruled out, it is possible to use techniques such as exposure therapy.
The exhibition technique it is a basic technique but very useful in the treatment of phobias, which consists mainly in making the subject face the dreaded situation and the anguish it generates until it ends up diminishing by habituation. In this case, it would be a type of interoceptive exposure, that is, exposing the subject to concrete sensations.
In the case of cardiophobia, in which the anxious response may be a reason for the subject to have their fears confirmed, it is necessary to have great caution in its execution: If this is not done correctly, it is possible to further sensitize the patient.
It is necessary to jointly develop a graduation of the stimuli that the subject will gradually face, continuously until the anxiety decreases considerably. In this way the activities carried out by the subject will be introduced and that they generate a cardiac activation for you, so that you can verify that even if your heart rate increases, it is not leading to a dangerous coronary event.
If there are obsessive controlling behaviors, it may also be necessary to perform exposure with response prevention, i.e. rendering the subject unable to check their heart rate or blood pressure and having to wait for it. getting used to anxiety.
You may need to work on a cognitive levelProbably even before on a behavioral level, as they will have to work with the patient on beliefs about health, thoughts about what is happening, the meaning he gives to the cardiac event, working with possible traumatic experiences or dysfunctional patterns and expectations of danger and risk you may have. Dealing with stress can also be something to deal with.
It may also be relevant the use of relaxation techniques. If necessary, it may be appropriate to use drugs such as benzodiazepines to decrease the level of anxiety and allow more cognitive and behavioral work.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
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