Does getting angry put you at risk of a heart attack?

News articles about Anger risking heart attack

Losing your temper can trigger a heart attack – even as long as two hours after the anger has subsided, researchers have warned.

- Daily Mail 4 March 2014

This story made widespread headlines, including in the Times, Telegraph, Daily Mail, Guardian and BBC News.

Researchers found that in the two hours immediately after feeling angry, a person’s risk of a heart attack increased nearly fivefold (by 4.74 times), and the risk of stroke increased more than threefold (by 3.62 times).

But because this was only for a relatively short time, the overall impact on a person’s risk remained fairly small. The people most affected are those who were at higher risk already and people who get angry more often.

The study authors suggest several reasons for the link, including the fact that psychological stress can increase the heart rate and blood pressure.

The coverage of this story was fairly accurate, although most newspapers did not mention that the overall impact of anger is only between one and four additional cardiovascular events per 10,000 people each year.

The Times and Telegraph also confused heart attacks with cardiac arrests, with the Times wrongly reporting that: “Thousands of cardiac arrests are triggered by outbursts of rage each year.”

The study was a systematic review that looked at existing studies on the subject. In total, it covered 4,546 cases of heart attack plus smaller numbers of stroke, acute coronary syndrome and irregular heart rhythms.

Learning how to relax can help you move on from high pressure situations

It was carried out by researchers from Harvard Medical School, funded by the US National Institutes of Health and published in the peer-reviewed European Heart Journal.

This kind of study is good for suggesting potential links, but cannot prove cause and effect. The study authors also admit that people may have tried to explain their heart event by overestimating how angry they were immediately before the incident. The other shortcoming is that it does not look at outbursts of anger among the general population, only those who have had a cardiovascular event.

Our Senior Cardiac Nurse, Doireann Maddock, said: “It’s not clear what’s behind these findings. It may be linked to the physiological changes that anger causes to our bodies, but more research is needed.

“Learning how to relax can help you move on from high pressure situations. Many people find that physical activity can help let off steam. Talk to your GP if you’re worried about stress.”

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