Angry Outbursts Increase Risk of Heart Attack, Study Says

Research shows the risk of cardiovascular events rises significantly with the experience of anger.

The next time you feel like lashing out at an inconsiderate driver on the Pike or the waitress who messed up your order, consider this: according to researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), you are five times more likely to suffer a heart attack in the two hours following an angry outburst. The study, which was recently published in European Heart Journal, also revealed that such outbursts can increase the risk of ventricular arrhythmia and stroke.

Murray Mittleman, a BIDMC physician and the study’s senior author, described in a report the body’s “fight or flight” reaction to experiencing anger. “Your adrenaline and heart rate increase, blood vessels constrict and blood pressure rises. Stress hormones actually impact blood platelets, which makes blood more prone to form clots,” Mittleman said. “This response made sense in past evolution, since the body was preparing for potential injury. But today, this barrage of stimulators to the cardiovascular system cause mental distress and potential physical harm.”

BIDMC researchers reviewed thousands of publications from multiple databases to find studies that evaluated the association between angry outbursts and short-term risk of cardiovascular events. Of the nine studies identified, all showed positive correlations.

Still, this risk may be greater for some people than for others. According to the study:

Although the relative risk of a cardiovascular event following outbursts of anger is large and statistically significant, anger episodes may be rare and the heightened cardiovascular risk is transient so the impact on an individual’s absolute risk of a cardiovascular event is small. However, the absolute risk is higher for individuals with a higher baseline cardiovascular risk and individuals who have frequent outbursts of anger.

Researchers suggested that the use of medications including beta-blockers and serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors may minimize this risk. In a BIDMC report, Mittleman added that maintaining a heart healthy diet and practicing activities like yoga or meditation are important too.

“We need more research to determine if specific behavioral interventions will help,” Mittleman said in the report. “But we do recommend that people, heart patients in particular, find a better way to deal with or respond to stress.”