There’s the improvised explosive devices that are used in combat zones, but in psychiatric circles there’s another IED that also involves explosions – of emotions, that is. People who suffer from intermittent explosive disorder struggle with hostile emotions, impulsive reactions and recurring flashes of aggression. A new study is the first to demonstrate a connection between people with IED and inflammatory markers, meaning there are biomedical conditions underlying the disorder.
People with IED exhibit overblown responses when put in stressful situations. The person typically explodes with anger in a way that is entirely disproportionate to the circumstances. It may look like a matter of poor self-control, but IED is a mental health disorder with biological and genetic underpinnings that can put a person at risk for developing other problems.
Not surprisingly, a person with IED faces a heightened risk for health issues like hypertension, stroke and ulcers. We have grown to associate these health concerns with high-strung, hot-tempered people. But people with IED are also at increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, anxiety, depression and substance abuse, as well as trouble with relationships and normal school or work function.
The study group was comprised of 197 healthy individuals, with 69 participants diagnosed with IED, 61 with non-aggression mental illnesses and 67 with no history of mental illness. The researchers used blood tests to learn that there was a clear link between higher levels of inflammatory markers and the presence of IED.
Going into the study it was known that inflammatory markers were associated with impulsivity and aggression. This study identified interleukin-6 (IL-6) and C-reactive protein (CRP) as two inflammatory responses linked to IED. The participants with IED had CRP levels two times higher than normal. And the more severe the person’s aggressive symptoms, the more likely they were to have inflated levels of CRP or IL-6. Both markers were independently linked to higher levels of aggression.
The study did not reveal higher levels of inflammatory markers in healthy subjects, nor in subjects with other mental health concerns.
CRP is produced by the liver. It directs the immune system’s attention to cells damaged by injury or infection. IL-6 comes from white blood cells and also stimulates the body’s immune reaction, but through inflammation or fever.
The inflammatory markers were linked to impulsiveness and aggression, but not to any other psychiatric symptoms. And although the connection is clear, researchers are not yet able to say whether higher levels of inflammation lead to aggressive behavior, or if feeling aggressive triggers increased inflammation.