When you get angry, stress hormones flood your bloodstream, causing your face to flush, your heart to race and your blood pressure to rise. Not surprisingly, a large body of research supports the idea that chronically angry people are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. (The word “anger” even comes from the same root as “angina,” the chest pains caused by inadequate blood supply to the heart.) Now, a systematic review in the European Heart Journal suggests that a single angry outburst can have immediate adverse effects.
Researchers analyzed data from nine studies that asked patients about their anger level preceding a cardiovascular event. The risk of having a heart attack or episode of unstable angina was found to be nearly five times higher in the two hours following an anger outburst than at other times, while stroke risk was nearly four times higher.
That’s not to say that if you get angry, you are sure to have a heart attack or stroke. The researchers estimate that for every 10,000 people at low cardiovascular risk, one anger episode a month would result in just one extra cardiovascular event a year, and for every 10,000 people at high risk, four extra events. But if you get angry a lot, the risk rises substantially. Five outbursts a day would lead to about 158 extra cardiovascular events a year for every 10,000 people at low risk, and 657 extra events for those at high risk.
Bottom line: Anger is a natural, sometimes even useful, part of life. Moreover, suppressing anger may also be bad for your health. But if you are prone to uncontrolled or chronic anger—especially if you have cardiovascular disease or are at high risk for it—it’s prudent to find ways to temper your temper. You might seek counseling to help identify what makes you angry, and for training in skills that will allow you to remedy the situation or at least express your anger without spinning out of control. Some people may benefit from relaxation training or meditation. There’s no proof that anger treatment or formal anger-management therapy will prevent a heart attack, but it can’t hurt and may help.