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Sep 15, 2011

Hostile Behaviors: Your Heart Takes the Heat

Hostility can double one’s risk for heart disease.

The connection between mental health and heart disease has become increasingly apparent over the years. Research has shown that having a positive mental state can help protect against heart disease, while stress and depression can increase an individual’s cardiovascular risk. And worse, a recent study suggests that simply having a negative demeanor and showing any sign of hostility — often defined as the tendency to react to common, stressful events with varying degrees of anger, irritability, rudeness, criticism and uncooperativeness — can double one’s risk for heart disease.

This study, published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, followed nearly 1,750 Canadians for 10 years to measure the relationship between hostility and risk for heart disease. Researchers conducted interviews and studied self-reported data evaluating hostile behavior to determine if one was more relevant to cardiovascular risk than the other. Self-reported data was collected through surveys, and hostile behavior was observed during a stressful 12-minute interview, known as an Expanded Structured Interview (ESI), used to assess psychosocial characteristics of an individual, including hostility and anger. The findings were somewhat surprising.

While researchers found no relationship between self-reported hostility and cardiovascular risk, hostility detected during interviews was very telling about an individual’s risk for heart disease. Study participants with any observed hostility — whether minimal or severe — during the interviews were 2.06 times more likely to develop heart disease than those with no detected hostility. Regardless of where participants fell on the spectrum of observed hostility, they were twice as likely to develop heart disease as their more mild-tempered counterparts.

Study findings suggest that observed hostility measured through interviews is a better predictor of cardiovascular risk than self-reported hostility. Therefore, it is important that adults with a tendency to become hostile in stressful situations are made aware of this issue and take action to control it in order to reduce their cardiovascular risk as effectively as possible.

Read this Article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How is hostility evaluated during the Expanded Structural Interview (ESI)?

  • The ESI is a 12-minute interview designed to assess how individuals respond to stressful situations. During the ESI, the interviewer rates the degree to which the participant expresses hostility, either through hostile statements, vocal hostility or a combination of both.
  • Why might hostility increase risk for heart disease?

  • Although the exact cause of this relationship is unknown, researchers suggest that hostility may increase blood pressure, which puts strain on the heart and can increase cardiovascular risk. It is also possible that the type of people who often become hostile are less likely to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle and/or decrease any risk factors they may have.