A team of Washington State University researchers have found that a measure of outward anger expression among older adults is a better predictor of calcification in coronary arteries than traditional risk factors such as smoking or high blood pressure.

The study found evidence for an interaction between explosive personalities and age, such that adults 50 years and above who express anger externally are more likely to have calcium deposits in their coronary arteries.

“Calcification in the arteries measures atherosclerosis, or clogging of the arteries, and is a predictor of future cardiovascular problems like heart attacks,” said Dr. Bruce Wright, medical director at the WSU Health and Wellness Center and one of the authors of the study. The results showed to be true both at base line and after nine years in adults 50 years or older at the time of entering the study.

“We do not know why bad temper causes calcification in coronary arteries, although a possibility might be that people who express anger outwardly, like yelling or door slamming, have temporary surges in blood pressure and heart rate that damage blood vessel walls,” said Wright. “Another possibility is that people with this personality style might secrete more stress hormones that damage the coronary arteries, starting the process of atherosclerosis.”

The study, entitled “The Relation of Anger Expression-Out to Coronary Artery Calcification in an Older Subsample of Participants Age 50 Years and Above,” was presented during the American Psychosomatic Society meeting at Budapest, Feb 5-8. The study was conducted by Joni Howard, Bruce Wright, Craig Parks and C. Harold Milke and is part of the Spokane Heart Study, a longitudinal investigation of new and emerging risk factors for cardiac disease.

Wright can be reached at (509) 335-6870 or at wrightbr@wsu.edu