J Epidemiol Community Health 59:794-798 doi:10.1136/jech.2005.033076
  • Research report

Is perceived nervousness and anxiety a predictor of premature mortality and severe morbidity? A longitudinal follow up of the Swedish survey of living conditions

  1. Gunilla Ringbäck Weitoft1,
  2. Måns Rosén1,2
  1. 1Centre for Epidemiology, National Board of Health and Welfare, Stockholm, Sweden
  2. 2Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr G Ringbäck Weitoft
 Centre for Epidemiology, Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, 106 30 Stockholm, Sweden;
  • Accepted 10 April 2005


Study objective: To find out if people perceiving nervousness, uneasiness, and anxiety have excess risks of premature death and severe morbidity.

Design, setting, participants: Random samples of the Swedish population aged 16–74 years in 1980–81, 1988–89, and 1995–96 were followed up for 5 and 10 years with regard to deaths and hospital admissions for different causes. Relative risks were estimated by Poisson regression, comparing those who reported perceived nervousness, uneasiness, and anxiety with those who did not and adjustments were made for baseline characteristics as age, education, smoking, and longstanding illness.

Main results: Perceived nervousness, uneasiness, and anxiety was strongly related to subsequent risks of suicide attempt and psychiatric disease. Those perceiving severe complaints of anxiety had a relative risk (fully adjusted) for suicide attempt of 9.2 (95% CI 3.0 to 28.8) for men and 3.1 (1.4 to 7.1) for women. Even for less severe complaints, there was a significant, but less pronounced excess risk. These negative feelings were also associated with later risks for all cause mortality, hospital care, and ischaemic heart disease, although to a lesser extent and more strongly among men. Unchanged relative risks over time shows no trend in response attitude and perceived anxiety seems to be a better predictor of a negative health outcome than self reported longstanding illness.

Conclusions: Positive responses to self report survey questions about anxiety/nervousness are associated with adverse health outcomes, particularly hospital admission for deliberate self harm. This is an alarming signal bearing in mind the rapid increase in prevalence of perceived anxiety in the Swedish society.


  • Funding: the study was funded by the National Board of Health and Welfare.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.

  • The study was based on data that was made anonymous after record linkage and so it is not necessary to have ethics committee approval according to Swedish legislation.

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