His Healthy Heart
Anger Can Be Deadly
One-half of American men and one-third of women 40 and younger will develop heart disease at some time in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta. But there are other reasons why for men the situation is particularly dire. Not only do they suffer from cardiac disease an average of 10 years earlier than women, they're also more likely to die prematurely from it: Men account for more than 70 percent of heart-disease deaths occurring before age 65.
Yet healthy middle-aged men "tend to minimize the potential risks and symptoms" of a cardiovascular condition, says Michael Fleming, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "It's not uncommon for a man to come in to see me and say, 'I've been having this chest pain for the last two months,' and be unaware that he may be moments away from a heart attack." Here are five new heart facts men -- and the women in their lives -- need to know.
Uncontrolled anger and hostility have long been linked with heart disease in men, but a study published in March is the first to show that a fiery temper can cause a specific heart-rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation (AF), which can lead to stroke and death. The study followed 1,769 men and 1,913 women whose average age was 49. Men who scored high on several standard psychological tests that measured anger (meaning they had more angry outbursts, got furious when criticized, and said their tempers frequently made them feel like hitting someone) and hostility (meaning they were more likely to act contemptuously toward others) were 10 to 30 percent likelier to develop AF than men who were not angry or hostile. The hotheaded ones were also 20 percent likelier to die from any cause. In contrast, emotional eruptions didn't affect women's heart health, perhaps because they develop rhythm disorders later than men.
Another possibility: "Anger and hostility may not be risk factors for women," says head researcher Elaine D. Eaker, ScD, president and owner of Eaker Epidemiology Enterprises in Chili, Wisconsin.
Particularly worrisome for the men: In the same study, two-thirds of the men who developed AF did so before age 60, and most of them had no known signs of heart disease. "AF usually occurs in older people who already have had structural problems with their hearts," says Dr. Eaker. "The take-home message is that for men, letting your anger out is not necessarily good if you express it in a fiery, hotheaded way." The results, published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, suggest that if your man is prone to temper tantrums, you should help him relax before he blows a gasket.