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Health Psychol. 1991;10(3):155-63.

High blood pressure and marital discord: not being nasty matters more than being nice.

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Health Services Research and Development Center, Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, MD 21205.


Theories linking anger and blood pressure (BP) reactivity to cardiovascular disease must be able to identify naturally occurring stressors that arouse emotion with sufficient frequency to cause chronic physiologic stress. We examine the impact of normal family arguments on 43 patients (24 women, 19 men) with essential hypertension. Patients and their partners discussed a threatening disagreement for 10 min while BP and conversation were recorded. Discussing problems increased BP, but the causal pathways differed by sex. In women, hostile interaction and marital dissatisfaction were associated with increased BP; "supportive" or "neutral" exchanges were unrelated to BP. In men, BP fluctuations were related only to the patient's speech rate. These findings are consistent with other research on sex differences in communication and social problem-solving styles and implicate different mechanisms (frequent anger, active coping) through which marital discord could increase risk. Implications for intervention are considered.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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