Negative Personality May Hurt Heart

Study Ties Combination of 4 Negative Traits to Men's Heart Disease Risk

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 17, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 17, 2006 -- Men with a strong mix of anger, depression, hostility, and anxiety may be more likely to develop coronary heart disease.

That's according to researchers including Edward Suarez, PhD, a Duke University associate professor of psychiatry.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death for U.S. men and women. It affects the heart and the coronary arteries which supply heart muscle with blood.

Coronary heart disease makes heart attacks more likely.

The study, published online in Psychosomatic Medicine, doesn't warn against normal anger, anxiety, and other "negative" emotions most people experience from time to time.

Also, it's important to remember that many factors -- including smoking, diabetes, and excess weight -- affect heart disease.

Goal: Prevention

Suarez and colleagues are designing a comprehensive intervention program to help patients handle negative feelings and cut heart risks, states a Duke news release.

"We want to help people at earlier points in their life by teaching them ways to cope with problems and how to make wiser choices that promote health," Suarez says in the news release.

"By helping them before they ever show clinical signs of heart disease, we may be able to help them avoid the disease altogether," he adds.

Personality and Heart Disease Study

Depression, anger, hostility, and anxiety have each been separately linked to worse odds of getting coronary heart disease.

But those traits may tend to go together, note Suarez and colleagues.

In their study, they looked at 2,105 men who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.

In 1985, the veterans were 47 years old, on average, and had no history of heart disease.

The men got heart checkups and completed personality surveys to gauge their anger, hostility, depression, and anxiety.

They were given scores for each of those personality traits, as well as a combination score covering all four traits.

The men were then invited to get checkups in 1987, 1992, 1997, and 2002. On average, they stuck with the study 15 years.

Study's Results

Anger, anxiety, depression, and hostility each independently predicted heart disease.

But the mix of those traits, reflected in the combination score, "was the most powerful predictor of heart disease," Suarez says.

The results take the men's age, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, body mass index (BMI) - a gauge for appropriate weight -- and smoking into account. The findings were similar for men who had or hadn't worked with herbicides such as Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Study's Limits

The study doesn't prove negative personality traits cause heart disease. And it doesn't show exactly how negative personality traits may have affected the men's hearts.

"The risk of developing coronary heart disease due to a combination of negative personality traits in people has never before been explored," Suarez says.

The data have some limitations since all participants were male veterans and most were white. It's not clear if the findings apply to women or other groups of people.

Suarez and his colleagues call for the findings to be checked in more diverse studies.

Meanwhile, your doctor can check your risk of developing heart disease and help you come up with a plan for good heart health.

WebMD Health News


SOURCES: Boyle, S. Psychosomatic Medicine, Nov. 1, 2006; online edition. WebMD Medical Reference: "Understanding Heart Disease -- the Basics." News release, Duke University Health System.

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