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Relationships & Love

Toxic Relationships Raise Your Blood Pressure

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have shown what you have probably suspected all along: Unpleasant or demanding interpersonal encounters increase hypertension risk. That unfortunate result is particularly true for women 51 to 64 — but not men. The study was published in May 2014 in the American Psychological Association’s journal Health Psychology.

A release from the university quotes researcher Rodlescia Sneed as saying, “There is a body of evidence in social psychology research suggesting that women care more about and pay more attention to the quality of their relationships. Our findings suggest that women are particularly sensitive to negative interactions, which is consistent with this previous work.”

One aspect of the findings may come as a surprise, however. Sneed along with Professor Shelden Cohen discovered that negative interactions between friends and family led to an increase in women’s hypertension risk while poor encounters with partners and children did not make a difference.

The release reports that the study provides some of the first concrete evidence that negative social interactions not only influence psychological well-being but also physical health – in this case, blood pressure levels. Hypertension affects an estimated 65 million Americans and is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

“This demonstrates how important social networks are as we age – constructing strong, positive relationships are beneficial to prolonged health,” Professor Cohen said.

For the study, Cohen and Rodlescia Sneed used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a multi-year survey of 1,502 healthy adults aged 50 and over. In 2006, the frequency of negative interactions – exchanges or behaviors that involved excessive demands, criticism, disappointment or other unpleasantness – with their partners, children, other family members, and friends was assessed by questionnaire. Blood pressure was measured at this assessment as well as four years later.

The results show that each increase in the total average negative social interaction score was associated with a 38 percent increased chance of developing hypertension over the four-year period. People aged 51 to 64 were more affected than those 65 or older.

“Interpersonal conflicts are the most commonly reported stressor, so understanding their impact on health and well-being is particularly important,” said Sneed.

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