02 March 2004

---A Direct Link Between Emotion and Health

In the forthcoming March 16 issue of the medical journal Circulation, results of the huge Framingham Offspring study involving 4,000 men and women, aged 18 to 77, revealed a link between anger and hostility and the development of atrial fibrillation. The study was led by Elaine D. Eaker, ScD, president of Eaker Epidemiology Enterprises in Chili, Wisconsin.

Atrial fibrillation (also known as AF or A-Fib) is a condition described as an irregular heart rhythm. It is a very fast, uncontrolled heart rhythm caused when the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) shudder instead of beating. The normal heart rhythm is between 60 and 80 beats per minute. However, during AF, the upper chambers of the heart beat between 350 and 600 times per minute. Because the pumping function of the upper chambers isn’t working properly, the blood is not completely emptied from the heart’s chambers, causing it to pool and sometimes clot. Five percent of patients with AF, clotted blood dislodges from the atria and results in a stroke.

The American Heart Association estimates that in the U.S., AF is responsible for over 70,000 strokes each year. If a patient has high blood pressure, heart valve problems, or heart muscle damage, recent investigations have shown that AF can increase the risk of stroke or heart failure and can lead to other heart problems.

Among the other findings in the Framingham Offspring Study:

 “Hostile men were 30% more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than other men. The angriest men were 10% more likely to have abnormal heart rhythms and 20% more likely to die during the study. Men who experienced symptoms of anger -- such as shaking, headaches, or muscle tension -- were 20% more likely to have atrial fibrillation.”

 “The findings did not hold true for women. But that may be because men typically get heart disease at younger ages than women do. It may be that the study didn't last long enough to find the effects of anger and hostility in women.”

 “It's become commonplace to think of people with ‘type A’ personalities as having a higher risk of heart disease. But Eaker says it's wrong to lump all the type A personality traits together. Some of the type A characteristics -- feeling that time is of the essence, and being competitive -- were not related to atrial fibrillation or death in her study.”

The angry men in the study have fiery tempers and are quickly annoyed. They endorse statements such as "I fly off the handle"; "When I get angry I say nasty things"; and "I get furious when criticized in front of others."

Eaker specified anger and hostility as the chief negative emotions that increase AF risk and not the Type A personality as a whole. But I think it should be noted that anger and hostility can usually be found among those with Type A personality. She suggested psychotherapy and anger management sessions to those who are affected.

In this highly competitive and sad world, it is sometimes difficult not to become angry and hostile. Especially in my country. It is so easy to fly off the handle even while driving.

This study should serve as an eye opener. Those who became angry are the real losers. Let us not pay the price with our precious hearts.

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