Harvard researchers who analyzed decades of evidence on links between anger and cardiovascular events, concluded that in the 2 hours following an outburst of anger, there is a higher risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event.
The systematic review and meta-analysis – thought to be the first to examine links between anger and cardiovascular outcomes – is published in the European Heart Journal.
First author Dr. Elizabeth Mostofsky and colleagues found that – compared with when they are not angry – a person’s risk of heart attack rises nearly five-fold, and the risk of stroke more than three-fold, in the 2 hours following an outburst of anger. Their risk of abnormal heartbeat or ventricular arrhythmia also goes up.
The absolute risk of heart attack, stroke or arrhythmia increased in people who already had a previous history of heart problems, and it also increased the more frequently they were angry.
Heart attack includes myocardial infarction (MI) and acute coronary syndrome (ACS).
Risk of acute cardiovascular event accumulates with frequent episodes of anger
Dr. Mostofsky says:
“Although the risk of experiencing an acute cardiovascular event with any single outburst of anger is relatively low, the risk can accumulate for people with frequent episodes of anger. This is particularly important for people who have higher risk due to other underlying risk factors or those who have already had a heart attack, stroke or diabetes.”
Dr. Mostofsky explains that a person with few risk factors who has only one anger outburst per month has a very small additional risk of heart attack or stroke, but someone who has several risk factors already, and is often angry, has a much higher risk that accumulates over time.
The researchers calculated that the annual rate of heart attack per 10,000 people who were angry only once a month would go up by one among those with low cardiovascular risk, and by four in those with high cardiovascular risk.
However, for those who had five outbursts of anger per day, this figure shoots up to 158 extra heart attacks per 10,000 heart attacks each year for those with low cardiovascular risk, and 657 extra heart attacks for those with high cardiovascular risk.
The study was not designed to establish cause and effect, so the researchers cannot be sure that it is being angry that raises the risk for these acute cardiovascular events – they can only say that these things are linked.