Your heart starts racing, your face flushes red and you clench your fists. Angry outbursts can be unsettling, but new research is now warning that they could increase your risk of heart attack.
Australian scientists say the risk of a heart attack is more than eight times higher in the two hours following an angry outburst. Their findings build upon previous research that has pointed to anger triggering a heart attack.
“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,” lead author, Dr. Thomas Buckley, said.
“The data shows that the higher risk of heart attack isn’t necessarily just while you’re angry – it lasts for two hours after the outburst,” he said.
The research, out of the University of Sydney, looked at 313 people who were treated in hospital for a heart attack. The group had to fill out questionnaires about their anger levels in the days leading up to their heart attack.
Anger was qualified as a five on a one-to-seven scale. The five referred to ‘very angry, body tense, clenching fists or teeth, ready to burst,’ while the emotion could even escalate to ‘enraged, out of control, throwing objects.’
Most often, what sparked this level of anger was arguments with family members (29 per cent), arguments with others (42 per cent), anger at work (14 per cent) and anger while driving (14 per cent). Anxiety even added to heart attack risk – a high level of anxiousness was associated with a 9.5-fold increased risk of heart attack.
“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,” Buckley explained.
But keep in mind, the study is small and anger is self-reported, so the measure varies from person to person. For most of the group, anger isn’t necessarily what brought on a heart attack. The risk of any one rage blackout sparking a heart attack is low, the doctors concede. What they’re saying is “the danger is very present.”
They’re hoping their findings will encourage health care workers to consider strategies to help people who are at risk during these moments of anger. Perhaps avoiding confrontation, or even taking medication at the time of a trigger could interrupt a potential heart attack.
Last year, Harvard School of Public Health researchers came back with similar findings: that anger may trigger heart attacks, strokes and other heart disease problems especially in the two hours immediately after seeing red.
It was the first to systemically study the relationship between extreme emotions, like anger, and cardiovascular outcomes. 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 Australian findings were published in the journal The European Heart Journal Acute Cardiovascular Care. Read the full study here.