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Study: Feeling mistreated can give you a heart attack

Published May 16, 2007


If you think life is unfair, you may just be right.

A new study finds that people who believed they were treated unfairly were more likely to suffer a heart attack or chest pain. Those who felt they experienced the worst injustice were 55 percent more likely to experience a coronary event than people who thought life was fair, according to the report published in Tuesday's Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

"Frequent experiences of unfair treatment can produce psychological distress that, in the long term, may influence health, " said Roberto De Vogli, an epidemiologist at University College London, who led the study.

The researchers examined medical data from 6, 081 British civil servants who were asked in the early 1990s how strongly they agreed with this statement: "I often have the feeling that I am being treated unfairly."

None of the subjects had any sign of coronary heart disease at the time - a way to make sure that poor health didn't influence feelings of unfairness. Their health was tracked for an average of 10.9 years.

In that time, 387 either died of a heart attack, were treated for a nonfatal attack or diagnosed with angina.

De Vogli and his colleagues found that the rate of cardiac events among civil servants who reported low levels of unfair treatment was 28 percent higher than for those who had no complaints. People who reported moderate levels of unfairness saw their risk rise by 36 percent.

Nancy Krieger, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the study adds to a growing field of research linking poor cardiovascular and mental health to racial and gender discrimination - two significant sources of unfair treatment.

People who feel they are victims of discrimination often respond by drinking, smoking or overeating. "They do things that take the edge off, " she said. "If you do those things, those will have health consequences."

Nadia Wager, a senior lecturer in psychology at England's Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, said the unfairness question could be a helpful addition to routine medical checkups.

[Last modified May 16, 2007, 02:23:35]

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