DURHAM, N.C. -- Heart patients who experience wide emotional swings are more at risk for cardiac abnormalities than patients who remain on an even keel, according to new findings from Duke University Medical Center.
The Duke researchers discovered that heart patients who score high for a personality trait called "emotional responsivity" are at up to four times higher risk of suffering from a condition of reduced blood flow to the heart, or myocardial ischemia, than patients with lower scores. Ischemia, which can identify individuals at risk for permanent damage to heart muscle, usually occurs without pain and goes unnoticed by patients.
People with high levels of emotional responsivity routinely experience a wider range of emotions during the course of a typical day. The good news is that doctors have many tools at their disposal - biofeedback, stress management, relaxation techniques - to help patients control emotional swings.
"In past studies we have shown that negative emotions, such as frustration, tension or sadness, can cause ischemia - both in the laboratory and during real life," said lead investigator James Blumenthal. "Now, it appears that this unique personality trait, emotional responsivity, is associated with cardiac abnormalities.
"After controlling for the levels of stress and negative emotions which trigger ischemia, we still found that these patients had significantly higher risk for ischemia over and above the negative emotions."
Blumenthal and his colleagues published the results of their study in the August issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. The study was supported by numerous grants from the National Heart Lung Blood Institute.
The Duke team already has demonstrated the links between negative
emotions and stress with the increased risk of heart abnormalities in people
with heart disease. After noticing in one of these earlier studies that
Contact: Richard Merritt
Duke University Medical Center