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Feelings of hostility and anxiety can impair the health of men and women alike, but physicians treating women in midlife often fail to recognize these traits, researchers say.

Doctors examining women patients too often generalize findings from studies of men, said Dr. Sally H. Adams, lead author of a study on health problems of middle-aged, educated women."Health concerns of women during midlife are under-represented in research and clinical practice and the health priorities for women are poorly identified," she said. "As a result, women are at risk for receiving inadequate or inferior medical care and treatment."

The study by scientists from the University of California-San Francisco, the University of Michigan and Wellesley College was presented at the American Psychological Association's first major conference on women's health.

The researchers studied long-term records of more than 400 women in three groups who earned college degrees and began developing careers from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, a time it called "the beginning of the era of major social transition of women's family and work roles."

The subjects were studied at ages starting at 27 up to 52. Results revealed that good physical health was associated with low levels of hostility and anxiety, and high levels of "intellectual efficiency" - being able to perform well without suffering undue stress or anxiety.

The researchers concluded that health care providers should work harder to assess the levels of hostility and anxiety in female patients in order to help them manage such characteristics.

Also, they said, doctors should "encourage the development of specific skills such as assertiveness, time management, conflict resolution and interpersonal skills to enhance self-confidence and self-assurance."

One of the authors, Dr. Lillian K. Cartwright, described the work as "a landmark study" because it suggested that personality, family history and many other factors affect health of women in ways that have not yet been quantified.

"While the available data show that women live longer than men and develop chronic life-threatening illnesses later than do men, they also show that women have significantly higher rates of acute illnesses, more days of bed time due to illness, more medication use, and more hospitalizations than do men. In other words, it appears that women live less well than men due to health constraints," the study said.

The authors concluded that intellectual efficiency seems to be a positive health factor.

Though health problems occur for many reasons, including diet, lifestyle and hereditary factors, it's also obvious, the study concluded, that psychological problems such as stress play important roles in physical health problems.

It also found that "hostility, a lower degree of empathy and poorer planning abilities are long term antecedents of poor physical health and consequences of poor psychological health."

- Bill Hendrick, Cox News Service