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Heart risks soar when we get angry

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Angry outbursts can lead to heart attack within two hours

Angry outbursts could lead to heart attack suggests new researchers. Anger can raise the risk of heart attack that persists for two hours. The chances of having a heart attack from anger is five-fold, the researchers say.

The finding that comes from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) highlights the importance of anger management for lowering cardiovascular risk factors, especially for anyone with a history of heart disease or metabolic syndrome.

Anger also raises chance of stroke, irregular heart rate

"There has been a lot of research on anger; we already know it can be unhealthy, but we wanted to quantify the risk, not just for heart attack, but for other potentially lethal cardiovascular events as well," says lead author Elizabeth Mostofsky, MPH, ScD, a post-doctoral fellow in the cardiovascular epidemiological unit at BIDMC and an instructor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The investigation showed anger not only raises the chances of heart attack that is highest two hours following an outburst. The chances of having a stroke from a blocked brain artery was 3.7 higher two hours after getting angry.

Patients with implanted cardiac defibrillators were more likely to have a heart rhythm disturbance requiring a "shock" within 15-minutes of getting mad. There was also a 6.3 fold increase in the chances of a brain aneurysm that can also cause a stroke from cerebral hemorrhage linked to experiencing angry emotions.

Senior author Murray Mittleman, MD, DrPH, a physician in the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of BIDMC's cardiovascular epidemiological research program explained people without heart risks have minimal risk for heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular events.

"However, we should be concerned about the occurrence of angry outbursts with our higher risk patients and our patients who have frequent outbursts of anger," Mittleman said in a press release.

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The study that was published March 4, 2014 in the European Heart Journal, looked at cardiovascular events that occurred after angry outbursts and were self-reported. Study participants were asked to quantify episodes of anger just prior to heart attack, stroke or other according to words like "angry, furious or enraged". The results showed a consistent association between bouts of anger and heart attack and other cardiovascular events that followed.

How could anger raise heart risks?

The reasons anger might raise the risk of heart, though not discussed in the study, might include:

  • Higher blood pressure that taxes the heart and blood vessels in the brain
  • Release of adrenalin that constricts the blood vessels and can lead to decreased blood flow
  • Increased heart rate that puts more workload on the cardiovascular system
  • Insomnia from negative emotions

The authors for the study acknowledge that anger can sometimes be useful and create positive change. However, left unchecked, frequent angry outbursts can damage health.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, UK it's normal to feel anger, even on a daily basis. But when it becomes intense enough to interfere with your life, it's time to get help.

Tips to control anger include:

  • Counting to ten
  • Breathing deeply
  • Talk to a friend
  • Exercise: Go for a walk or perform other physical exercise that releases endorphins
  • Explore anger triggers and try to change your environment when possible
  • Talk to your doctor about medications or therapy that might help

The researchers say clinical trials are still needed to help understand behavioral therapies and medications that can help people manage anger and risk of heart attack and stroke found in the study.


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Eur Heart J (2014)
doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehu033