TORONTO – You might want to count to 10 the next time you’re bound for an angry outburst. A new study suggests that anger may trigger heart attacks, strokes and other heart disease problems especially in the two hours immediately after seeing red.
The Harvard School of Public Health research is the first to systemically study the relationship between extreme emotions, like anger, and cardiovascular outcomes.
Two hours after you have an angry outburst, the study warns that your risk of heart attack increases five-fold, and your risk of stroke increases more than three-fold. And the angrier you are, the more your risk increases.
“The risk can accumulate for people with frequent episodes of anger. This is particularly important for people who have higher risk due to underlying risk factors or those who have already had a heart attack, stroke or diabetes,” lead researcher Dr. Elizabeth Mostofsky said in a statement.
Smoking, excessive drinking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or being overweight are all considered risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
The study calculated that one extra heart attack per 10,000 people could be expected among people with low heart health risk but were angry only once a month. If you are at high-risk and your throw a temper tantrum, it jumps to four heart attacks in 10,000 people.
And if you’re prone to losing your temper, that risk increases again: at a population level, five episodes of anger a day resulted in around 657 extra heart attacks per 10,000 people with a high cardiovascular risk, Mostofsky calculated.
It’s unclear why this link exists. But there are some possible mechanisms: “Psychological stress has been shown to increase heart rate and blood pressure and vascular resistance,” the researchers write in their paper. Changes in blood flow can lead to blood clots and lead to inflammation.
The doctors hope that their primary care colleagues take their research to heart and ask patients if they have anger issues. If that’s the case, the patients could receive psychological or medical intervention to help them cope.
The Harvard researchers are now looking into whether anger immediately before a heart attack has an effect on the long-term prognosis for a patient.
Their full findings were published Tuesday in the European Heart Journal.