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Heart Care

August 2013

Anger May Up the Ante for a Heart Attack

Anger is a powerful emotion. From a subdued simmer to an explosive tempest, it can stress the body. Past research has linked anger with heart disease. And now, a recent study suggests outbursts of ire may actually trigger a heart attack.

Photo of a woman yelling out her car window

A time-related response

In a recent issue of the American Journal of Cardiology, researchers interviewed more than 3,800 heart attack survivors. They asked participants to recall any outbursts of anger in the past year and the previous 24 hours before their heart attack. Each bout of rage was then ranked by intensity-moderate to extreme.

The findings show a possible time-related connection between anger and a heart attack. In particular, a heart attack was twice as likely to occur within two hours after a bout of anger. The most intense episodes of anger-those that included losing control, throwing objects, and hurting others-were most likely to result in a heart attack.

How does anger have such control over the heart? Like other forms of stress, anger triggers your body to produce adrenalin-a type of hormone. Adrenalin ramps up your heart rate, accelerates your breathing, and spikes your blood pressure. This normal reaction is called the fight or flight response. It essentially prepares your body to take action. In some people, this natural process may stress the body too much.

The negative-emotion effect

An occasional outburst of anger likely won't harm your heart. But constantly feeling negative emotions just might. Experts have found that chronic stress on the body may actually damage artery walls-the starting point for heart disease. Past research has strongly linked anger and hostility with future heart disease in healthy adults, especially men.

Constant anger may also encourage unhealthy habits. People who are angry may feel stressed out. In a failed effort to cope, they may turn to smoking, drinking, or eating high-fat foods. Unfortunately, these activities are proven promoters of heart disease.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.


Click here to find out ways to avoid heart disease. 


Managing Your Anger

"He flew off the handle." "She was in a fit of rage." These colorful idioms help us easily talk about anger. Managing it in real life may be more difficult. If you have problems with anger, try these strategies:

  • Calm down. Before dealing with the person who is making you angry, release energy by taking some time by yourself. Try going for a walk. Other tactics: breathe deeply, repeat calming words, or visualize a relaxing place.

  • Communicate. When having a conflict with another person, listen carefully to the meaning behind what the person is trying to say. Avoid immediately reacting.

  • Be aware. Learn to recognize your triggers. Mentally prepare yourself for a situation that tends to make you angry, or try to avoid the situation altogether.

  • Take care of yourself. Staying physically healthy can help keep you emotionally healthy. Fit in time for exercise and plenty of rest.

  • Don't go it alone. If you can't manage anger on your own, contact a counselor or other mental health professional who can help you change your behavior.


Online Resources

American Academy of Family Physicians - Mental Health: Keeping Your Emotional Health

American Psychological Association - Anger

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health - Other Possible Heart Disease Risk Factors


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