Harvard Men's Health Watch

Anger: Heartbreaking at any age

Everyone gets angry from time to time. It's a normal human response to unfair treatment and other injustices, and it's a common reaction to frustration and criticism, whether justified or not. But normal anger is one thing, excessive hostility quite another. Some people get angry without provocation, others react excessively to minor adversity, and still others experience inappropriately intense or prolonged anger to legitimate triggers.

Outbursts of anger are never pretty, and they can damage relationships and careers. Anger can also bring on heart disease. But older men are most vulnerable to heart disease, while younger men are more likely to have short fuses. Does youthful anger affect the mature heart? Studies of anger and heart disease say the answer is yes: Excessive anger at any age can take a toll on men in midlife and beyond.

Hostility at Harvard

The hostile heart is a vulnerable heart. Harvard researchers have demonstrated that anger has both short- and long-term consequences. In a longitudinal study, scientists evaluated 1,305 men with an average age of 62. Each participant took a psychological test that used the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory anger scale to rate his anger level. The men returned for detailed medical exams every 3 to 5 years; they were checked for heart disease and cardiac risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. None of the men had coronary artery disease at the start of the study, but 110 developed it within 7 years. All in all, the angriest men were three times more likely to develop heart disease than the most placid men. The link between anger and heart disease was not explained by differences in blood pressure, smoking, or other cardiac risk factors; hostility was heartbreaking in its own right.

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