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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 02:17 GMT 03:17 UK
Angry young men risk heart attacks
Road rage anger
Calm it! - Even suppressed rage can be harmful
A bad temper can lead to a risk of premature heart attack, scientists claim.

Their comments are based on findings that young men who quickly react to stress with anger are three times more likely to develop heart disease.

Research shows these men were five times more likely than their calmer counterparts to have an early heart attack, even without a family history of the condition.

Some expressed their anger, others were able to conceal it, while many became irritable or engaged in "gripe sessions".


The most important thing angry young men can do is get professional help to manage their tempers

Dr Patricia Chang, study co-ordinator
Dr Patricia Chang, who co-ordinated the US-based research, said: "In this study, hot tempers predicted disease long before other traditional risk factors like diabetes and hypertension became apparent.

"The most important thing angry young men can do is get professional help to manage their tempers, especially since previous studies have shown that those who already have heart disease get better with anger management."

Dr Chang and her colleagues used data from a study of more than 1,300 students who enrolled at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions between 1948 and 1964.

They traced 1,055 men for an average of 36 years to examine the risk of premature and total cardiovascular disease associated with anger responses to stress during early adult life.

Anger admission

During medical school and again in 1992, all participants were given a "nervous tension" questionnaire that sought clues to how they responded to undue pressure or stress.

Expressed or concealed anger, irritability and gripe sessions were the three responses defined as indicating the most anger, according to an article published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Responding to the questionnaire during medical school, 229 men said they expressed or concealed their anger, 169 said they engaged in gripe sessions and 99 said they were irritable.

Twenty one men experienced all three responses, deemed to be the highest level of anger.

By the age of 76, 205 of these men had developed cardiovascular disease, with an average onset age of 56.

Of those, 145 men had coronary heart disease, (94 with heart attack) and 59 had a stroke.

Seventy-seven men had premature cardiovascular disease, with an average onset age of 49.

Of those, 56 had coronary heart disease (34 with heart attack) and 13 reported premature stroke.

Dr Chang said: "Although the number of heart events was small, the incidence of cardiovascular disease was significantly higher for those with the highest level of anger, compared with those with lower levels of anger."

Hostile personalities

She said it was unclear if the same findings were applicable to women or those from ethnic backgrounds.

Alison Shaw from the British Heart Foundation said the research corroborated similar studies which suggest that people with hostile personalities are more likely to develop coronary heart disease (CHD).

However, there are no estimates about the number of CHD deaths related to factors like personality, stress or depression.

She said: "This new research is interesting, but it makes no mention of the other risk factors such as smoking or high blood pressure, which may have influenced the development of CHD in the participants.

"In the long term, more large-scale research is needed that takes into account all the possible risk factors for CHD to give more insight into how psychosocial factors effect our hearts"

Although it is not known how anger contributes to heart disease, Dr Chang says evidence points to stress-related release of extra catecholamines, compounds occurring naturally in the body that serve as hormones or transmitters of messages.

These substances, such as adrenaline, prepare the body to meet emergencies such as cold, fatigue and shock, by constricting blood vessels and forcing the heart to work harder to supply the body with fresh blood.

See also:

03 Dec 01 | Health
Early heart attack clue in genes
13 Nov 01 | Health
Heart drugs could save thousands
22 Aug 01 | Health
Weekend heart risk for young men
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