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Impact of Toxic Relationships on Heart Health

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Impact of Toxic Relationships on Heart Health

All this month we’ve been looking at the effect of emotions on our heart health and have discovered some really great things. Unfortunately, with the positive, also comes the negative or reverse image.

While happiness provides a bounty of benefits for our heart, negative emotions such as anxiety, worry, depression and stress, increases our risk of developing heart disease. What about toxic relationships? Are they harmful?

Where do relationships fit into the picture when it comes to our heart health? Can our emotions, either positive or negative, in our closest personal relationships put us at an increased risk for developing heart disease?

Whether or not negative, personal relationships affect our risk for developing heart disease was examined by the Whitehall II study. The long-term study began in 1985 and followed a group of more than 10,000 participants for an average of 12.2 years. Participants consisted of both men and women and ranged in age from 35 – 55 years old. Researchers controlled for psychosocial factors (depression, anxiety, worry, stress) as well as lifestyle, social demographics (age, marital status, sex, employment status,) and biological factors (high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and cholesterol levels).

During the course of the study, participants were given questionnaires designed to evaluate the negative aspects of their closest personal relationships. Although the questionnaire allowed participants to respond with a maximum of four close relationships, researchers only evaluated the relationship which was identified as being the closest by the participant. Researchers divided responses into those where the closest relationship identified was the spouse or partner versus non-spouse, non-partner. Sixty-four percent of all first close personal relationships identified were spouses. Responses were also evaluated by the type of relationship: confiding/emotional support (confides in close relationship, self-esteem builder, shares values or interests) or practical support (i.e. actual practical support or help provided by the closest personal relationship to the participant).

The goal of the study was to obtain a measure of how negative close relationships impacted the development of and risk of heart disease over the course of the study. Researchers found that certain groups of people are more likely than others to experience negative close relationships. These included: younger participants, women, men whose jobs were considered lower economic, and persons who were never married. In addition, researchers also found that some relationships (spouse/partner, high confidence/emotional/practical support, and single due to divorce, separation or death of spouse) had a higher risk for cardiac events if the relationship was negative.

According to study findings, women and participants with lower social standing were more apt to have negative close relationships. Overall, study results showed that participants whose first close personal relationship was negative were at a greater risk of a cardiac event, including a fatal cardiac event, than their counterparts whose close relationships were not negative by. While additional studies are certain to follow, it does appear that some relationships, particularly those closest to us, can be toxic to our heart health if that relationship is negative.

Until next time, here’s wishing you a healthy heart.

Roberto De Vogli, PhD, MPH; Tarani Chandola, DPhil; Michael Gideon Marmot, PhD, FRCP; Negative Aspects of Close Relationships and Heart Disease, Arch Intern Med. 2007; 167(18): 1951-1957, http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/167/18/1951?maxtoshow=&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=negative+emotions+and+heart+disease&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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