Can Anger Trigger a Heart Attack?
Posted April 1, 1998
For many years anecdotal data has suggested that emotionally stressful events can trigger a heart attack. A study involving 1,623 patients was conducted in 55 U.S.
medical centers to see if an episode of anger was statistically connected to heart attacks.
A heart attack involves the coronary arteries that deliver blood carrying food and oxygen to the heart itself. Deposits made of cholesterol and other materials can
cling to the walls of these arteries, restricting or even blocking the flow of blood and hardening the arteries of the heart (atherosclerosis). When this occurs, sections of the heart
muscle may be damaged or die. When the heart muscle is damaged to a certain degree, the person suffers a heart attack or myocardial infarction.
In the heart attack study, people who had an episode of anger within two hours before their heart attacks had a 2.3 times greater risk of experiencing a heart attack
compared to the people who did not have an anger episode. This was the first controlled study of the risk of anger, an emotional stress, being related to a heart attack.
Anger triggers a surge in adrenalin (a stress hormone), heart rate and blood pressure. This can lead to a cascade event that causes a blood clot to form in the body,
which could result in a heart attack. The rise in blood pressure and heart rate due to the anger could also dislodge deposits in a coronary artery and block the artery's blood flow.
This, too, could lead to a heart attack.
Two mechanisms have been found to help reduce the risk of a heart attack. Doctors often prescribe aspirin to reduce the risk of a heart attack. In the study group,
those taking aspirin appeared to be protected from anger-related heart attacks. Secondly, doctors recommend learning relaxation techniques which help the person become less responsive
to stress hormones. The researchers believe the study needs to be expanded to other types of psychological stress besides anger to fully understand the relationship between stress and
American Heart Association Journal Report. "Anger Triggers Heart Attacks in Some, But Aspirin May Reduce Risk," American Heart Association Journal Report, http://www.heartinfo.com/anger.html.