Intense anger increases heart attack risk

By: Chioma Umeha

Being angry could be dangerous to your heart. A new study in Australia found people’s risk of heart attack increases by 8.5 times two hours following an incident of extreme anger. 

The researchers also found that high levels of anxiety can increase your risk even more – by up to 9.5 times. The findings were published in European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care, an agency report said on Monday. Researchers at the University of Sydney found there is a two hour window following a burst of anger when the chance of having a heart attack spikes significantly. Some of the signs that anger has reached a dangerous level include a tensed-up body, clenched fists or teeth and ‘object throwing’, they said. Authors of the research also indicated that blood pressure reducing medication, like aspirin or beta-blockers prove beneficial. “Our findings confirm what has been suggested in prior studies and anecdotal evidence, even in films – that episodes of intense anger can act as a trigger for a heart attack,” said Dr. Thomas Buckley, lead author of the study from Sydney Nursing School, University of Sydney. “The data shows that the higher risk of a heart attack is not necessarily just while you are angry – it lasts for two hours after the outburst. Reasons for such an intense anger most likely occurs during a family argument, work, or driving, researchers found. 

High levels of anger were associated with a 9.5 fold increased risk of having a heart attack in the two hours following the anxiety episode. “Increased risk following intense anger or anxiety is most likely due to increased heart rate, blood pressure, tightening of blood vessels and increased clotting, all associated with triggering heart attacks,” added Dr Buckley. In the study, heart attack patients were asked about the social situations in the 48 hours leading up to their admission to hospital. Researchers analyzed 313 heart attack patients from Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, Australia, from 2006 to 2012. Once on the road to recovery, the patients answered a questionnaire about their feelings 48 hours before their heart attack occurred. The questionnaire had a seven-point scale and ranged from “calm” to “enraged, out of control, throwing objects, hurting yourself and others.” They also reported what triggered their anger, whether it was a fight, work or traffic. Seven of the participants recorded acute level of anger within two hours before their heart attack symptoms. 

One person reported acute level of anger four hours before their heart attack symptoms. Five people reportedly feeling mildly angry within two to four hours before their heart attack symptoms. The study noted increase in stress and anxiety can cause an increase in blood pressure, tightening blood vessels, and increased clotting, which are all associated with heart attack symptoms. The researchers noted that having one episode of anger is highly unlikely to trigger a heart attack; however, this study supports previous findings that stress and anxiety can affect the heart and a person’s health. 

“Potential preventive approaches may be stress reduction training to reduce the frequency and intensity of episodes of anger, or avoiding activities that usually prompt such intense reactions, for instance, avoiding an angry confrontation or activity that provokes intense anxiety,” said senior author Professor Geoffrey Tofler of Preventive Cardiology, University of Sydney. “Additionally, improving general health by minimizing other risk factors, such as hypertension, high cholesterol or smoking would also lower risk.”

This story was published in Newswatch Times on February 26,  2015.


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