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Anger Outbursts Linked To Increased Heart Attack Risk

Last updated Aug. 28, 2015

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Craig Sunter

A new study shows that individual's who experienced severe anger outbursts are more at risk for cardiovascular events in the two hours following the outbursts compared to those who remained calm.


If you haven’t found any reason to control your anger, here is your reason. A new study from Harvard has evidence that shows people who experienced severe anger outbursts are more at risk for cardiovascular events in the two hours following the outbursts compared to those who remained calm. 

Published in the European Heart Journal, the study used a systematic review and meta-analysis to examine the links between anger and cardiovascular outcomes.

The researchers found that a person’s risk of heart attack increased nearly five times, and the risk of stroke more than three times, in the two hours following an outburst of anger—compared with when they are not angry.

The risk of myocardial infarction, acute coronary syndrome, stroke or arrhythmia increased in people who already had a previous history of heart problems, and it also increased the more often they were angry.

“Anger causes our heart rate to increase through the sympathetic nervous system and causes our stress hormones to become elevated (the fight or flight mechanism),” says Dr. Mariell Jessup, president of the American Heart Association and medical director of the Penn Heart and Vascular Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “We breathe faster, all of which may trigger undesirable reactions in our blood pressure or in our arteries.”

This disruption may not allow the desired blood flow and oxygen to the heart and brain, resulting in a heart attack or a stroke. 

First author Dr. Elizabeth Mostofsky and colleagues found that 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.

Those who had an average of five outbursts of anger per day shoots up the figure 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 research does not conclude a cause-and-effect relationship but a correlation.

Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, senior study author and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, suggests the best approach to lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke during an angry outburst is to lower your overall baseline level of risk through exercise, healthy eating and avoiding smoking. Also, finding ways to cope with stress and anger will lower your risk of heart attack.

Additional Resource:

Outbursts of anger as a trigger of acute cardiovascular events: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 11, 2014
Last updated: Aug. 28, 2015