Tuesday, January 26, 1999 Published at 12:33 GMT
Equality sets blood pressure soaring
Arguments may lead to divorce, but they could also damage health
More equal relationships may lead to raised blood pressure, according to a new study.
The research by the University of Utah found that couples where one partner is significantly more dominant than the other are less likely to see their blood pressure soar when they argue.
The researchers, led by Timothy Smith, studied 45 young couples who had been married an average of four years.
They asked them to rate who was more dominant in the couple and to what degree.
They then attached probes to their hands to monitor their blood pressure levels and were told to take opposing viewpoints in an argument about staff cuts at a local school.
The researchers found that arguing with a spouse who was seen as relatively dominant caused blood pressure to rise more than arguing with one who was seen as relatively submissive.
But if the spouse was seen as clearly dominant and the argument considered not worth the effort blood pressure only increased by a small amount.
The research, published in the Annals of Behavioural Medicine, could suggest that the level of dominance of one partner in a marriage might be a factor in cardiovascular disease.
But the scientists warn that this conclusion is only "tentative".
Belinda Linden, cardiac nurse adviser at the Foundation said she did not think it would have "enormous impact", although it showed the need for more study of the role of stress in heart disease.
She said: "There is a tremendous amount we do not understand about risk factors for heart disease. About 20% of factors are not understood."
She added that the problem was that research was often equivocal and stress was hard to define.
"It is such a loose term, covering anger, lack of control, anxiety, distress and hostility," she said.
"Some studies show suppressing anger is worse for heart disease, while others suggest expressing it is worse."
Each individual's response to stress was different, she said.
However, the BHF says one factor in research on stress and heart disease appears to be consistent: lack of control in the workplace affects heart disease.
A recent study by the University of London, for example, showed a clear link between low job control and coronary heart disease in British civil servants.