Angry Young Adults Show Early Signs of Heart Disease
May 16, 2000 -- Young adults who score high on a test of hostility are more
likely to have calcium deposits in their heart arteries, and that's a potential
sign of early heart disease, a study in this week's issue of the Journal of
the American Medical Association reports.
"This study raises the very intriguing possibility that high hostility
levels in young adults are contributing to early atherosclerosis," which is
hardening of the arteries, Diane Bild, MD, MPH, tells WebMD. Basically, the
higher the level of hostility, the higher the prevalence of calcium deposits in
the heart arteries, she says. Bild is former director of the CARDIA study, from
which this study was generated, and a medical officer at the National Heart,
Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Md., as well as one of the study's
The CARDIA study is a large national investigation of risk factors for
cardiovascular disease that has been going on since 1985. It has been following
about 5,000 young adults aged 18 to 30, and includes both men and women. The
374 members of the group included in this analysis had approximately equal
numbers of men and women and black and white participants.
All study participants have been evaluated for many of the known risk
factors for cardiovascular disease, including smoking, level of physical
activity, and weight. Participants also filled out a questionnaire specially
designed to assess their level of hostility, and they were examined using a
technique that identifies areas in the heart's blood vessels that have calcium
Bild says the findings of this study need to be confirmed, but adds,
"It's kind of like motherhood and apple pie to suggest that people need to
be calmer and to take a better attitude toward life, but studies to do that
kind of intervention would be interesting."
"I'm not at all surprised by these results, and I think its time we
started to acknowledge that chronic stresses affect [brain-hormone] pathways
and are part of the cardiovascular risk equation," says Sarah Knox, PhD,
who reviewed the study for WebMD. "There are two possible pathways where
hostility can lead to cardiovascular disease. One of them is health behaviors,
such as smoking or not exercising. These are definitely behaviors found more
often in hostile people. The other is ... psychosocial behaviors, where things
like chronic stress or hostility affect the body."
Many doctors already recognize that assessing someone's cardiovascular risk
requires looking at psychosocial risk factors, as well as health behaviors and
familial background, Knox says. This study, as well as many others, suggests
that treatment of psychosocial factors also is important, and needs to take
place earlier, she says.
"My own research has shown that people who are chronically irritable are
as prone to cardiovascular disease as those who are always angry and ready to
explode," says Aron Seigmen, PhD, professor of psychology at the University
of Maryland in Baltimore County.