Heart-brain link found in women with GAD

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New research revealed a link between the heart and brain in women with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, was conducted by researchers from UCLA Health and the Laureate Institute for Brain Research (LIBR). Researchers investigated whether the ability to sense one’s heart rate and the intensity of this sensation differs between women with elevated anxiety and those without anxiety.

Fifty-eight women – 29 with GAD and 29 without GAD – were injected with either isoproterenol or saline to accelerate the heart while their brain was evaluated for changes. Researchers monitored participants’ physical response to fast heart rates and measured brain activity associated with it using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

When the women with GAD were given a low dose of isoproterenol, they had a higher heart rate, reported higher anxiety, and had reduced brain activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, compared to those women without GAD, according to the study.

The study suggests that GAD impacts the brain’s ability to control the body’s reaction to stress and may explain why anxiety can increase by seemingly non-threatening triggers.

Researchers said new treatments for GAD can target the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

According to Olujimi Ajijola, MD, Phd, associate professor of medicine at the UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center, this research “furthers our understanding of the kind of brain-body interactions that are dysfunctional in the setting of generalized anxiety disorder.”

GAD effects 6.8 million adults or 3.1 percent of the population and women are twice as likely to be impacted than men, according to Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Integrative practitioners who see patients with GAD and who are resistant to treatment, may want to consider this research in their patient care planning.