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Pessimism raises risk of death from coronary heart disease: study

November 29, 2016

Lahti, Finland – Being a pessimist may raise a person’s risk of death from coronary heart disease, even though optimism does not offer protection from the disease, according to a study from researchers at Päijät-Häme Central Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry.

The researchers studied data from 2,267 Finnish men and women between the ages of 52 and 76, including their socioeconomic status, psychosocial background and health. Participants answered questionnaires containing three statements about optimism and three statements about pessimism, scoring each between 0 and 4 based on how much the statement characterized them. Example statements: “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best,” and “If something can go wrong for me, it will.”

Results showed that people with more extreme pessimism had a higher risk of death from CHD. After the study’s 11-year follow-up period, the 121 participants who died from CHD had been more pessimistic than those still alive.

No difference in optimism was found between the two groups, indicating pessimism impacts risk of death from CHD. The most pessimistic participants had a 2.2 times higher risk of dying from CHD than participants who were the least pessimistic.

“High levels of pessimism have previously been linked to factors that affect cardiac health, such as inflammation, but data on the connection between risk of death from CHD and optimism and pessimism as personality traits are relatively scarce,” lead study author Mikko Pänkäläinen said in a press release. “Levels of pessimism can be measured quite easily and pessimism might be a very useful tool together with other known risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension or smoking to determine the risk of CHD-induced mortality.”

The study was published Nov. 17 in the journal BMC Public Health.