Conniptions' Cardiac Consequences

January 31, 2005

Pitching hissy fits might give you some perverse satisfaction, but it also makes you more prone to a heart attack or stroke. While researchers have generally known of this danger for years, they are now discovering the molecular basis for anger's role in such attacks.

Most recently, Edward Suarez, an associate research professor in medical psychiatry at Duke Medical Center, and his colleagues discovered that otherwise healthy people who are prone to anger, hostility, and depression produce higher blood levels of a substance called C-reactive protein. This protein is well known for promoting heart disease and stroke. It's produced by the liver in response to inflammation--a major contributor to the fatty plaque that clogs arteries.

The latest study, published in the September 2004 journal Psychosomatic Medicine, adds C-reactive protein to a growing list of substances whose levels are increased by anger and hostility. The list also includes the stress hormone norepinephrine and the inflammatory substance interleukin 6.

"Most individuals tend to think of heart disease as a condition that is associated with factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, and sedentary lifestyle," says Suarez. "Our findings, however, suggest the development of heart disease may also be due to psychological attributes that activate the inflammatory process shown to predict and contribute to the development of heart disease."