Chronic anger, hostility may make you sick
Fri Jul 8, 2005
By Alison McCook

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who are hostile or angry for longer periods of time are more at risk of health problems, according to a review of recent literature on anger and health.

Does chronic anger really affect health? "Scientists now are pretty confident that it does," Dr. John Swartzberg of the University of California, Berkeley, told Reuters Health.

According to the university's Wellness Letter, preliminary evidence suggests that chronic anger may weaken the immune system and cause other health problems, perhaps by triggering bad habits such as smoking and drinking, or by boosting stress hormones, which may affect immunity.

Swartzberg edited the report. In an interview, he noted that he and his colleagues decided to assemble an article about anger and health following recent studies that investigated this relationship. In addition, global events and news of fights at sporting events demonstrate that "there's a lot of anger in the world today," he commented.

The report describes two recent studies that found hostility can increase the risk of dying, among both men with risk factors for cardiovascular disease and postmenopausal women with heart disease, among whom hostility also increased the risk of a second heart attack.

Another study showed that nearly 40 percent of people who had the most common type of stroke, called ischemic stroke, had felt angry or experienced something upsetting within two hours before the event.

In terms of treating anger, Swartzberg had several recommendations.

Try to find the source of the anger, he advised, and take steps to change circumstances that contribute to it. Try relaxation therapy or meditation to quiet the body, he suggested. Think about how to satisfy needs in a constructive way, and consider therapy, he said.

Swartzberg added that research also shows that anger management courses can help -- but only if people volunteer for them, not if they are forced to attend, suggesting that "motivation" is a big factor.

"We're not helpless in the face of this," he said. "There are things we can do."

SOURCE: UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, July 2005.