Depression and Hostility Can Cause Heart Disease

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • Depression coupled with hostility form a destructive alliance in terms of elevating the risk of heart disease. Professor Jesse Stewart, assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, revealed a complex interaction of psychology and physiology in which inflammatory proteins are triggered to predict heart disease.


    There is a long-standing interest in the relationship between psychological states and the direct or indirect development of physical diseases. In the case of heart disease the most prominent example is the notion that personality type may protect or predict heart disease. Very early research pointed to those with a Type A personality as having the greater risk. People with a Type A personality are considered to be very time conscious, impatient, competitive, hostile, and they frequently like to accentuate certain key words like ‘never' or ‘absolutely'. By contrast, people with a Type B personality were viewed as more calm and collected, able to let problems wash over them more easily and to have much less of an investment in trying to exert personal control over their environment.

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    As is often the case with these seemingly simple and intuitive models they really only scratch the surface of a far more complex relationship. The ‘Type' concept is really not much more than a drawing together of certain facets of personality As early as 1936 Menninger and Menninger associated ‘repressed hostility' with heart disease. Hostility is just one of the features of the Type A personality, but it retains is place as one the more obvious contenders for predicting a higher risk of heart disease. Incidentally, just to complicate things a little further, some research points to Type A as protecting against heart disease.


    Hostility refers to people who are cynical, mistrustful and prone to anger or possibly aggression. In this latest research, the investigators took account of depression and hostility simultaneously. Over 300 men and women were screened for cardiovascular risk factors at the start of the study. This included blood pressure, cholesterol and ultrasound tests determine changes in the walls of the carotid artery. Questionnaires were used to assess depression, anxiety, hostility and anger.


    Three years later the same battery of tests were employed on the volunteers. Hostility and depression in combination were found to have a much stronger association with two inflammatory proteins (interleukin-6 and C-reactive) that predict heart disease. According to Stewart, the strength of the association is similar to that of the traditional markers of heart disease risk such as smoking, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.


    As depression and hostility seem to co-occur in people who are depressed it suggests that psychological risk factors merit much greater attention as one of the ways of predicting and therefore preventing heart disease.




    Indiana University (2008, February 12). Dangerous Duo: Hostility Plus Depression Elevates Risk For Heart Disease. Science Daily. Retrieved March 11, 2008, from

Published On: March 13, 2008