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J Psychosom Res. 2000 Apr-May;48(4-5):323-37.

Going to the heart of the matter: do negative emotions cause coronary heart disease?

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  • 1Department of Health and Social Behavior, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



Negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, and depression, have emerged as potentially important risk factors for coronary heart disease. The purpose of this article is to consider the nature and function of emotions, to review epidemiological evidence for an association between the three negative emotions and coronary heart disease (CHD), to discuss briefly the mechanisms by which emotions may be linked to CHD, and to consider this evidence in light of theoretical insights provided by mainstream psychological research on emotions.


We collected articles published between 1980 and 1998 on the relationship between each negative emotion and CHD. We also collected review articles or chapters published during the same time period that considered mechanisms by which emotions may increase CHD risk. We used a qualitative approach to review the published literature.


Evidence that anxiety is involved in the onset of CHD is strongest, whereas evidence for an association between anger and CHD is limited but suggestive. Although depression has consistently been linked to mortality following a myocardial infarction, evidence for its role in the onset of coronary disease is quite mixed. Numerous unresolved issues leave our current understanding of the emotion-health relationship incomplete. Psychological theories of emotion are considered to help address gaps in our knowledge.


Growing evidence indicates that negative emotions may influence the development of CHD. The focused and specific consideration of negative emotions and their possible role in the etiology of CHD gives insight into current knowledge and suggests important directions for future research.

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