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Heart Disease Health Center

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Pessimism Deadly for Heart Patients?

Outlook Affects Survival, Study Shows, So Look on the Bright Side

The Impact of Stress continued...

Researchers conducted personality profiles on 327 healthy people to determine if they were more inclined to exhibit positive or negative emotions. They then conducted tests designed to assess the study participants' physiological responses to stress.

People identified as being more positive were found to have significantly lower increases in blood pressure during stress than people who were negative.

They also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol within 30 minutes of waking -- a time in which levels tend to be high.

"It's not just that negative emotions are harmful," lead researcher Beverly H. Brummett, PhD, tells WebMD. "There seems to be something about the experience of having more positive emotions. They seem to act as a buffer against bad health outcomes."

Brummett says interventions like meditation, behavioral therapy, and regular exercise may help people with naturally gloomy dispositions change their outlook.

But cardiologist Donald LaVan, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania, is not so sure.

LaVan, who is a spokesman for the American Heart Association, tells WebMD that very soon after the introduction of heart bypass surgery, cardiologists began to recognize that more optimistic patients fared better in terms of recovery and even survival.

This recognition led to the advent of the Zipper Club, a volunteer group made up of former heart surgery patients who help current patients deal with the emotional aspects of their illness.

LaVan says studies like the ones presented at the Baltimore meeting help advance the understanding of how emotions affect health.

"The conclusions are not too surprising, but the question becomes, 'Can you do anything to change someone's attitude?'" he says. "Maybe you can to some degree, but my clinical experience tells me that if a patient is walking around with a big black cloud over his head there's not much you can do about it."

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