Findings: Have a rant, not a stroke

February 21, 2003

Men who get hot under the collar are often warned that they might give themselves a heart attack or a stroke. But, writes Natasha Gilbert, expressing a moderate amount of anger could help protect against such an outcome, say US researchers.

Patricia Eng of Harvard University's School of Public Health and her team studied 23,522 male health professionals aged between 50 and 85 years with no previous heart disease. After two years, Dr Eng and her colleagues found that men who refrained from expressing their anger were more than twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease or suffer a stroke than those who identified with phrases such as "if someone annoys me, I am apt to tell them".

"The way people deal with anger seems to be important to how anger and its expression may affect the heart," Dr Eng said. Suppressing anger might increase the body's stress responses, such as raising the heart rate and blood pressure, she said, and so force the heart to work harder.

Although anger is often viewed negatively, expressing one's irritation and annoyance may help relieve stress, and this could help curb negative physiological consequences, Dr Eng said.

In the study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, those participants experiencing protective effects of anger were in a high socioeconomic group. Dr Eng suggested that these men perceived their anger as appropriate and felt freer to express themselves than individuals in a lower socioeconomic group.

Alison Shaw, a cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, told The THES : "It is important to know more about the effects of anger in different social backgrounds, ages and both genders."

This, however, is not an excuse to indulge in an all-out rant. Although the frequency with which men got annoyed did not seem to affect their health, Dr Eng noted that the positive effects of expressing anger might be seen only up to a point. Get any angrier, and you may blow off more than just steam.

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