February 1, 2006

Anger may set the stage for injury

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Anger appears to raise the risk of suffering an injury, particularly for men, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that among more than 2,000 patients treated in an emergency room for broken bones, cuts and other traumas, bouts of anger appeared to boost the risk of injury by up to 8 times.

The study, published in the Annals of Family Medicine, included men and women seen at three hospitals for injuries from falls, car accidents and other incidents. They were asked to rate how they'd been feeling just before the incident, as well as 24 hours before. Their levels of anger right before the injury were compared with those of the previous day.

In addition, the researchers asked the same questions of a comparison group of adults randomly selected from the community. Each person was matched to a patient and asked to rate their emotions on the same day of the week and same hour for which their counterpart gave information.

Overall, when the patients' emotion ratings before the injury were compared with their own for the previous day, anger appeared to contribute to injury risk -- especially for men.

For men, being "extremely" angry raised the risk of injury more than 7-fold, but even moderate levels of anger and hostility were linked to greater injury risk.

Among women, only extreme anger and hostility raised the risk of injury, and to a lesser degree than that found for men.

Similar patterns emerged when the researchers compared patients with the community group.

There was no evidence, however, that anger raised the risk of being injured in a traffic accident specifically - an unexpected finding, according to lead study author Dr. Daniel C. Vinson of the University of Missouri-Columbia.

"We've all heard the stories about 'road rage,"' he said in an interview.

It's possible, Vinson speculated, that many people recognize the danger of being angry behind the wheel and consciously try to control their emotions. If that's the case, he noted, they may be able to take that self-control into other situations.

Unlike the case with traffic accidents, angry emotions were linked to a greater risk of injuries intentionally inflicted by another person. This, Vinson said, could mean that some people got into fights that led to their injuries, though that's not clear from the study results.

Past studies have linked anger and hostility to a higher risk of heart disease, so there could be a number of health reasons for people to try to curb their reactions to irritating situations, according to Vinson.

Though this study is not the "definitive" look at anger and injury, he said, the findings might make some people reassess what they do when they feel angry.

"When you find yourself feeling angry," he said, "then it's time to back off."

SOURCE: Annals of Family Medicine, January/February 2006.