Flying into angry rage could cause fatal heart attack or stroke, warns new research

By Staff 7 Min Read

Blood vessels can be impaired by a short bout of anger – which may increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke, researchers have warned. Such an effect may increase the risk of heart disease

Flying into a rage could prove fatal, warns new research.

A brief period of anger can impair the function of blood vessels – which may increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke, say scientists. American researchers found that when adults became angry after remembering past experiences, the function of cells lining the blood vessels was negatively impaired, which may restrict blood flow. Previous research has found that such an effect may increase the risk of heart disease.

In the new study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, episodes of anxiety and sadness did not trigger the same change in functioning of the blood vessel lining. The research team found that a brief episode of anger triggered by remembering past experiences may negatively impact the blood vessels’ ability to relax, which is essential for proper blood flow.

Previous studies have shown that impairment of blood vessels’ ability to relax may increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis, which may, in turn, increase the risk of heart disease and a stroke. Study lead author Professor Daichi Shimbo, of Columbia University Irving Medical Centre in New York City, said: “Impaired vascular function is linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

“Observational studies have linked feelings of negative emotions with having a heart attack or other cardiovascular disease events. The most common negative emotion studied is anger, and there are fewer studies on anxiety and sadness, which have also been linked to heart attack risk.”

The team investigated whether negative emotions – including anger, sadness and anxiety – may have an adverse impact on blood vessel function compared to a neutral emotion. The 280 adult participants, with an average age 26, were randomly assigned to one of four emotional tasks for eight minutes.

The tasks were recalling a personal memory that made them angry; recalling a personal memory of anxiety; reading a series of depressing sentences that evoked sadness; or repeatedly counting to 100 to induce an emotionally neutral state. The team assessed the cells lining each participant’s blood vessels before the tasks and at several points after, looking for evidence of impaired blood vessel dilation, increased cell injury or reduced cell repair capacity.

The measurements taken before the emotional tasks were repeated after tasks were completed. Measurements were taken before and at three minutes, 40 minutes, 70 minutes and 100 minutes after the assigned emotional task. The researchers found that recalled past events causing anger led to an impairment in blood vessel dilation, from zero to 40 minutes after the task. The impairment was no longer present after the 40-minute mark.

Prof Shimbo said: “We saw that evoking an angered state led to blood vessel dysfunction, though we don’t yet understand what may cause these changes. Investigation into the underlying links between anger and blood vessel dysfunction may help identify effective intervention targets for people at increased risk of cardiovascular events.”

Prof Glenn Levine, of Baylor College of Medicine, said of the findings: “This study adds nicely to the growing evidence base that mental well-being can affect cardiovascular health, and that intense acute emotional states, such as anger or stress, may lead to cardiovascular events.

“For instance, we know that intense sadness or similar emotions are a common trigger for Takatsubo cardiomyopathy, and events such as earthquakes or even as a fan watching a world soccer match, which provoke stress, may lead to myocardial infarction and/or to arrhythmias.

“This current study very eloquently shows how anger can negatively impact vascular endothelial health and function, and we know the vascular endothelium, the lining of blood vessels, is a key player in myocardial ischemia and atherosclerotic heart disease.”

Prof Levine added: “While not all the mechanisms on how psychological states and health impact cardiovascular health have been elucidated, this study clearly takes us one step closer to defining such mechanisms.”

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