Get Mad? Don't Get a Heart Attack

Here's another reason not to get angry.  A new study has found that there's a nearly fivefold increase in risk for heart attack in the two hours following outbursts of anger. quotes 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“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. 

She notes that the study might help patients think more about how they manage anger in their everyday lives and encourage physicians to discuss medications and psychosocial supports with their patients for whom anger is an issue, especially patients with known cardiovascular risk factors.

The study results showed that the risk of heart attack, with symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath or sweating related to a blocked artery, was 4.7 times higher in the two hours following an angry outburst than at any other time. And the risk for stroke caused by a blocked artery in the brain was 3.6 times higher than at other times. One of the studies included in the review indicated a 6.3 fold increased risk for brain aneurysm in the hour following an outburst of anger compared with other times.

So how do you not get angry?  Of course we're always going to have people, events, even work that infuriates us.  But it seems to pay to learn how to control it, or express it in a healthy way.

“It’s important to bear in mind that while these results show a significantly higher risk of a cardiovascular event associated with an angry outburst, the overall risk for people without other risk factors like smoking or high blood pressure is relatively small,” the Web site quotes 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. “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.”

My dad has always been quick to anger, as is my husband, and though my dad had a heart attack 30 years ago, and survived, it's still a little unsettling to think you could scream at your wife, then keel over with a heart attack.  Probably, as the doctors say, it's not those at risk for cardiac events so much but the ones who also have mitigating factors like high blood pressure or who smoke, who should be mindful of this. 

If you're quick to anger, try taking a deep breath before exploding, or leave the room for a few minutes.  Even take a walk.  It's not worth the danger of your heart shutting down.  


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