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Anger Can Harm Your Health

ER visits show injured men were more likely to be upset at the time they got hurt

TUESDAY, Jan. 31, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Anger has been blamed for everything from high blood pressure to road rage. Now, a new study links it to something else -- injuries in men.

Researchers who interviewed emergency-room patients found that men were more likely to report being mad or furious at the time of their injuries than during an ordinary day.

The findings may seem obvious: Why wouldn't angry people be more likely to get hurt? But previous research into the anger effect has been contradictory, and doctors have had a hard time figuring out how to find the truth, said study co-author Dr. Daniel C. Vinson, a professor of family medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

"You're not going to take a bunch of young adults, make half of them really mad, and put them on the interstate to see who has a wreck," Vinson said.

So Vinson and a colleague decided to ask injured patients themselves about their experiences. They surveyed 2,517 emergency-room patients in Missouri about their state of mind before they were injured; 2,446 responded with thoughts about their anger level just before their injury, and 2,117 told how they felt 24 hours before being injured.

The researchers also randomly surveyed 1,856 uninjured Missouri residents about their anger levels during a regular day and got full answers from 1,533 of them.

The findings appear in the January/February issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

Nearly one-third of the injured people surveyed said they were irritable just before their injuries. Eighteen percent said they were angry, and 13.2 percent described themselves as hostile.

Some of these numbers were similar to those who weren't injured. But the injured people were more likely to express higher levels of anger, especially men and those who were injured by another person, the study found.

"The association between anger and injury was much stronger in men than women," Vinson said. "Men may get more angry, may act on their anger, or they may get distracted by their anger."

Surprisingly, the researchers didn't find a link between anger and car accidents.

Vinson cautioned that, due to the design of the study, it's impossible to know how many injuries were directly caused by anger.

Still, one anger specialist said the findings are important. "They add significantly to our growing body of work that emotional stress, whether it be anger or grief or fear, has a profound effect on the body," said Dr. Hunter Champion, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University and its Heart Institute.

Last year, he co-authored a study about how stressful events can cause a heart-attack-like condition that doesn't cause permanent damage.

So, what to make of the new findings?

"When one begins to feel angry in some sort of situation, whether in interpersonal relationships or just because of what's going on in your own mind, it's wise to take a step back and move out of the situation that's escalating," Vinson said. "Slow down and back off so you might be able to avoid injury."

Champion agreed. "The old stress-relieving mechanisms are all in play. Stop, count to 10 before you rush off and do something rash."

More information

To learn more about controlling anger, visit the American Psychological Association.

SOURCES: Daniel C. Vinson, M.D., M.S.P.H., professor, family medicine, and family physician, University of Missouri-Columbia; Hunter Champion, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Heart Institute, Baltimore; January/February 2006 Annals of Family Medicine
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