Extreme anger could trigger a heart attack, researchers find

CALM DOWN. Those two words might not be easy to hear when you’re full of rage, but they might just save your life. A team from The University of Sydney and Royal North Shore Hospital has found a feeling of intense anger could trigger heart attacks up to two hours after it occurs. Study leader Thomas Buckley said while things like high blood pressure and smoking were well known to increase a person’s risk of heart attack, it had remained unclear what pushed some people over the edge and caused an attack. But his research indicated very intense emotions could play a key role – with more than 1000 heart attacks each year in Australia potentially triggered by rage. “In our society, it is often thought that anger isn’t a bad thing,” he said. “We also know it is often men who will express their anger rather than women and we used to be told that expressing that anger is a good thing, but that’s not necessarily the case. ”People who are prone to high levels of anger need to know their triggers and look for the warning signs”. In the study, published in European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care, people who had been admitted to Royal North Shore Hospital suffering from heart attacks were asked about feelings of anger before the event. They rated their anger on a scale of one to seven, with one being calm and seven being so angry you were out of control. Dr Buckley and his team found anything above a five, which involved feeling very angry, “ready to burst” and having a tense body and possibly clenched fists, was associated with an 8.5-fold increased risk of heart attack compared with periods when the person was more relaxed. “Such a high level of anger isn’t an everyday occurrence,” he said. “It really is high, intense anger and it’s not in everybody.” He said a range of different events caused the anger, but they frequently involved arguments with family members such as in-laws, and close associates such as work colleagues and flatmates. The study also found strong anxiety was linked to heart attack, posing a 9.5-fold increased risk in the two hours afterwards. However, anxiety is often reported as a symptom of heart attacks, so Dr Buckley said it was not so clear whether it was directly causing them. “Anxiety is more complex than anger, because we know an acute episode will cause an acute physical response, but anxiety is frequently associated with heart attacks, and regularly reported as a symptom,” he said. Heart Foundation NSW chief executive Kerry Doyle said it was important for people to look after their physical and psychological health, particularly if they were at risk of heart disease. “Being angry can have real physical effects on the body, and while we know it isn’t the sole cause, this study shows us it can potentially trigger a heart attack in those people who already have heart disease,” she said. “When you are intensely angry, your blood pressure raises, and having high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack.”

The Age, 25 February 2015 ;http://www.theage.com.au ;