Does being angry increase your risk of a heart attack?

10 January 2017

Question

Linda asks: Does being angry increase your risk of a heart attack?

Answer

Chris Smith put Linda's question to Cambridge University cardiologist, James Rudd...

James - There has been some recent research actually. There was a paper published in 2016 and a much larger review in 2014 that showed that yes, if you have an angry outburst or get upset or stressed by something, over the two hours following the angry outburst, even if you’ve calmed down, there is a four times increase in your risk of heart attack. Now you have to put that into context the fact that most of the risk of an individual's risk of a heart attack is extremely low and the risk of a heart attack in any one hour period is very, very small. So increasing a very very small beginning number by four times, you’re still left with quite a small risk at the end of that. And there are far greater risks to having heart attacks things like: diabetes, blood pressure, and smoking that we are aware of. And also, related to this, there was another really fascinating study, which was performed during the 2010 World Cup. And it was shown that watching England’s dismal performance, if you remember during that competition, actually again because it’s a stressor to the system; you’re frustrated, you’re sitting in front of the TV watching the football, that can also increase the risk of heart attack. But again it...

Chris - Are there any telly programmes or sports I can watch that won’t have that effect or will have a reverse or a calming effect and reduce my heart attack risk?

James - Maybe I’m going to go out and say bowls, maybe, something like that.

Chris - You’d just die of boredom instead, wouldn’t you? But surely the element about getting angry, although in that moment in time you’re risk elevation is quite small, surely one has to consider that if your are chronically angry, and we all know chronically angry people, then that risk must magnify because it will accummulate over a day, over a week, over a month, and so on?

James - Absolutely, you’re right. And this effect was most prominent in people that are generally of the angrier persuasion to start with, and also in patients with pre-existing heart disease, again, compared to patients without it. So it’s a small effect, it’s real, and we think it’s probably to do with increase in the blood pressure, increase in the heart rate which, of course, stresses the cardiovascular system, puts more stress and work on the heart and that puts you at greater risk of heart attacks for about that two hour period afterwards.

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