Angry outbursts appear to boost heart attack, stroke risk

People who have angry outbursts appear to be at increased risk of heart attack or stroke, especially within the first two hours of an outburst, according to a study by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and New York-Presbyterian Hospital researchers. Those with cardiovascular disease (CVD) are at particular risk.

“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,” lead author Elizabeth Mostofsky, instructor in the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH, told the BBC News on March 3, 2014.

In reviewing data from nine studies involving thousands of people, the researchers found heart attack risk increased about five times in the two hours after an outburst; the risk of stroke more than tripled. A single angry outburst once a month in someone at low risk for CVD was associated with one extra heart attack per 10,000 people annually; the risk increased to an extra four per 10,000 people among those at high risk. Five angry episodes each day would result in about 158 extra heart attacks per 10,000 people at low risk annually, or about 657 extra heart attacks per 10,000 in those at high risk.

The researchers, who included Murray Mittleman, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH and associate professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said the findings do not necessarily indicate that anger causes heart and circulatory problems. More studies are needed to understand the link and to find out if stress-reduction strategies, such as yoga, can help.

Read “Outbursts of anger as a trigger of acute cardiovascular events: a systematic review and meta-analysis” (European Heart Journal)

Read “Angry people ‘risking heart attacks’” (BBC News)

Learn more

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Chronic stress takes a toll on the young (HSPH News)

Stress plays key role in racial disparities in health (HSPH News)

Take it to heart: Positive emotions may be good for health (HSPH News)

Happiness & health (Harvard Public Health magazine)