Losing your cool could come with a risk. (Photo: Getty Images)
It’s a universal truth: Anger sure doesn’t feel good. And according to new research, an angry outburst could also come with a pretty serious health effect.
The study, published in the European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care, shows that heart attack risk is 8.5 times higher in the two hours after a bout of extreme anger, compared with during general, common patterns of everyday angry feelings.
Researchers tracked patients admitted to Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, Australia, for primary angioplasty (a procedure to open blocked blood vessels after a heart attack) between 2006 and 2012. Of the 687 patients originally suspected to have experienced a heart attack, 313 were confirmed and included in the study analysis.
Through a questionnaire answered by the participants, anger was assessed on an individual basis on a seven-point scale: 1 was considered “calm,”whereas 7 was considered “enraged, out of control, throwing objects, hurting yourself or others.”Using personal judgment, patients indicated where they fell on the scale. Researchers considered level 5 or above an episode of acute anger, meaning “very angry, body tense, maybe fists clenched, ready to burst.”
Of the 313 cases of heart attack assessed in the hospital, seven followed a bout of acute anger that occurred within two hours of the heart attack. An additional person had reached level-5 anger within four hours of the cardiac episode. Level-4 anger was noted in two participants within two hours and three participants within four hours.
Taking each participant’s usual anger frequency into account, the researchers determined that the odds of heart attack symptoms within two hours of a level-5 anger (or greater) episode was roughly eight times higher than the risk associated with those normal, garden-variety anger levels.
This is a significant finding that may lead us to better understand predictors of heart attack, according to study author Thomas Buckley, PhD, a senior lecturer and researcher at the University of Sydney and Royal North Shore Hospital.
“This indicates that the episodes of anger were not just coincidental but associated with triggering the myocardial infarction,” or heart attack, he tells Yahoo Health. “This risk lasts for two hours after anger and there was no association with lower levels of anger and myocardial infarction onset.”
Why Is Anger So Dangerous?
These findings add to previous research showing anger’s negative impact on overall health and well-being. A March 2014 study from the Harvard School of Public Health showed anger increases heart attack and stroke risk. According to the researchers, five bouts of anger a day would end in an extra 158 annual heart attacks per 10,000 people at low risk of heart issues, and 657 extra episodes per 10,000 people at high risk.
So, what is anger’s role in increased risk of these events? “Anger results in changes to heart rate and blood pressure, as well as additional inflammatory markers and activation of the clotting system, all of which are associated with onset of heart attack,”says Buckley. “Most heart attacks are secondary to a blood clot in the coronary artery, and this usually occurs after rupture of a plaque in the artery. So, these physiological changes associated with anger are likely to contribute to this plaque becoming unstable and rupturing, with blood clots blocking the artery.”
For doctors and patients alike, Buckley says the takeaway is recognizing that emotional distress leaves you vulnerable to heart-related incidents. “While the absolute risk of a heart attack for one given episode of anger is still quite low, the risk still exists,”he says. “This information is also most important for those with existing cardiac risk factors, and individuals should work with their health care provider to reduce modifiable risk factors and take strategies to avoid anger situations when possible.”
Anger is a modifiable risk factor that leaves you vulnerable not just to heart attack and stroke but to other conditions, as well. For instance, a 2013 study published in JAMA Psychiatry, showed that anger and irritability were associated with more severe depression issues, higher substance abuse incidence, anxiety disorder, and overall lower life satisfaction.
How To Get Your Anger Under Control
The trick is to prevent anger, anxiety, and stress whenever possible, says Buckley. If you’re constantly on edge, stress-reduction therapy and avoiding situations where confrontation is likely may be your best bet.
“Some other strategies are listing things that can trigger your anger, learning to control your thinking, and avoiding the exaggeration of an event,”he says. “Before, during and after something stressful, take time out, use distraction, use relaxation, learn assertiveness skills, and acknowledge the thing that is making you angry.”
Letting your frustrations out constructively — without acting out — may seem easier said than done. But if you do learn the tools, your body will thank you.