Can an eruption of intense anger trigger a heart attack? New research out of the University of Sydney in Australia suggests just that. In fact, a new study found that the risk of suffering a heart attack is over eight times higher during the two hours following an outburst of extreme anger.
Dr. Thomas Buckley, the study’s lead author, says in a statement that the triggers for these angry feelings were related to everything from arguments with family and/or friends, to work, to road rage.
“Acute anger has been shown to increase your heart rate, your blood pressure, and the stiffness in your blood vessels,” says Elizabeth Mostofsky, an instructor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health. While Mostofsky did not work on this last study, Dr. Buckley is one of her colleagues.
“[Acute anger] can also make the blood more sticky, which makes it more likely to clot,” she adds. “That, in turn, can increase the chances of a blockage that could lead to a heart attack, stroke, or other type of cardiovascular event.”
Another notable finding from the Australian study was that feelings of anxiety can also make you more likely to have a heart attack. Researchers actually found the risk to be 9.5 times higher during the two hours following an anxiety attack.
Even so, Mostofsky says that the risk of having a heart attack with any single outburst of anger or anxiety is still very low. “It’s just that the risk can accumulate for people who are frequently angry,” she says. “It’s particularly important for people who already have a higher risk of heart attack, stroke or diabetes for other reasons.”
For instance, people who smoke, are sedentary, or have high blood pressure – and are also frequently angry – may be more likely to suffer from a cardiac event. While there haven’t been any large, randomized clinical trials to show which interventions would be most effective, Mostofsky says that she and her team published a paper last year that may shed some light. More specifically, minimizing the intensity of the anger as well as the frequency of outbursts may help.