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Marital Stress Linked to Heart Disease
Date:10/23/2007

Couples with troubled relationships have hardening of the coronary arteries, research says

TUESDAY, Oct. 23 (HealthDay News) -- When married couples lose their cool with one another, it may take a toll on their hearts, too, researchers have found.

What's more, the damage that's wrought may depend on how they lose it, according to study leader Tim Smith, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah.

For women, hostility appears to be the culprit. Wives who were hostile in disagreements with their spouses were more likely to have atherosclerosis, often referred to as hardening of the arteries, Smith and his colleagues discovered. Levels of calcification were particularly high among those women whose husbands also were hostile.

Among husbands, atherosclerosis was more common when either they or their wives acted in a controlling manner, the research team said.

Whether it's social conditioning or some other factor that causes women to be influenced by hostility and men by issues of control is uncertain, Smith said. It's hard to separate biological, psychological, and social/cultural processes, he explained, but social conditioning "would certainly play a role."

Smith and his colleagues first presented their research at a meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society.

"There are well-documented differences in the ways that men and women talk and relate to one another, so finding gender-linked differences related to heart risks makes sense to me," said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor and director of the Division of Health Psychology at Ohio State University College of Medicine.

She and husband Ronald Glaser, an Ohio State professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics, have collaborated on a series of studies over the years examining the ways stress can affect the human immune system. Some of their work has focused on the body's ability to heal
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