THE QUESTION Might outbursts of anger trigger heart attacks or other serious cardiovascular problems?
THIS STUDY analyzed data from nine studies involving people who had experienced a cardiovascular problem, including heart attack, stroke or chest pain and shortness of breath from a blocked artery, called acute coronary syndrome. All studies provided behavioral data on participants, including information on anger episodes. The chance of having a heart attack or other cardiovascular incident was greater shortly after an anger outburst than at any other time. Within two hours of an eruption of anger, the risk for a heart attack or symptoms of acute coronary syndrome was about five times as higher as at other times, and the chance of having an ischemic stroke (caused by a blocked artery in the brain) was nearly four times as great. Two studies that included data on people with implanted cardiac defibrillators found that the most likely time for the defibrillators to detect an arrhythmia and to shock the heart back into regular rhythm was within 15 minutes of an anger outburst. Chances of having a brain aneurysm also were greater after an outburst. Some of the studies showed that as anger increased from moderate to furious, so did the risk for a heart incident.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People who experience outbursts of anger. Though anger is a universal emotion, it’s how the feeling is expressed that can affect not only the immediate situation but also the person’s mental and physical health, experts say. Both holding anger in and letting anger out can have positive and negative health consequences. People who regularly experience excessive anger are often urged to consider anger management or therapy sessions to learn to control outbursts.
CAVEATS Data on anger episodes came from the participants’ recollections, gathered through interviews or questionnaires shortly after they experienced a cardiovascular problem. This analysis did not prove that angry outbursts definitely caused the heart incident. Medical experts generally believe that the chance of anger triggering a serious heart problem would be higher among people who have other cardiovascular risk factors, such as being smokers or having high blood pressure, than among those who don’t. The precise risk factors of the study participants were not revealed.
FIND THIS STUDY March 3 online issue of the European Heart Journal.
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.