Anger can increase risk of heart attacks, study finds: ‘Chronic insult to arteries’

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Seeing red could spike your heart disease risk, experts are warning.

Feeling angry for as little as eight minutes a day could raise your chances of experiencing a cardiac event, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA).

The study included 280 healthy young adults with no history of heart disease, stroke, serious mental health conditions or other chronic illnesses, according to an AHA press release.

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The participants first spent 30 minutes in a relaxed state, while doctors gauged their blood pressure, blood vessel health and other cardiac measurements.

Next, the participants were randomly assigned eight-minute tasks, while the heart-related measurements were tracked.

Couple arguing

Feeling angry for as little as eight minutes a day could raise your chances of experiencing a cardiac event, according to a new study. (iStock)

One group was told to think about anger-inducing experiences.

A second group was asked to recall memories that triggered anxiety.

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A third group was tasked with reading passages that made them feel sad — and the final group was told to simply count out loud to achieve a neutral mindset.

Among those who were told to recall anger-inducing memories, their blood vessel dilation was reduced by 50% within 40 minutes of the task — which put them at a greater risk of heart attack or stroke.

The restricted dilation was temporary, but experts expressed concern that a longer duration of anger could have more adverse effects.

Man yelling

“Anger likely increases cortisol levels, which, in turn, raises blood pressure and could likely decrease vascular dilation,” an expert warned. (iStock)

“We showed that if you get angry once, it impairs your ability to dilate,” said lead study author Dr. Daichi Shimbo, a cardiologist and co-director of the hypertension center at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, in the release.

“But what if you get angry 10,000 times over a lifetime? This chronic insult to your arteries may eventually lead to permanent damage.”

Anxiety and sadness did not have this same effect.

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Elizabeth Sharp, M.D., founder and director of Health Meets Wellness in New York, New York, was not involved in the study, but said the results were “not particularly surprising.”

“Anger likely increases cortisol levels, which, in turn, raises blood pressure and could likely decrease vascular dilation,” she told Fox News Digital.

Angry woman driving

“This study showed that anger can cause acute, measurable changes in blood vessel function, which could be detrimental to cardiovascular health in the long run,” a doctor said. (iStock)

“It’s a well-known adage that ‘stress is a killer,’ and there are numerous physiological explanations for this,” she went on. 

“However, I would argue that it’s more about chronic stress, or that a stress response might reveal an underlying condition, such as coronary artery disease (CAD), which was already present.”

“There are three major ways to deal with anger: express it, suppress it or calm it.”

Dr. Jim Liu, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, also offered external input on the study.

“Psychosocial factors play an important role in cardiovascular disease, because the body’s nervous system provides a lot of input in regulating the heart and blood vessels,” he told Fox News Digital. 

“This study showed that anger can cause acute, measurable changes in blood vessel function, which could be detrimental to cardiovascular health in the long run.” 

man angry at laptop

People can reduce their heart attack risk by finding healthy ways to manage anger, experts say. (iStock)

The findings serve as a reminder that there are many factors that influence heart health, Liu noted. 

“We all know about the traditional risk factors, such as smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure — and with this study, perhaps there should also be an increased emphasis on mental health and psychosocial factors.”

7 smart strategies to cope with anger

People can reduce their heart attack risk by finding healthy ways to manage anger, experts say.

“There are three major ways to deal with anger — express it, suppress it or calm it,” said Dr. Gary Small, chair of the psychiatry department at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

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“When we suppress our anger, we hold it in and force ourselves to focus on something — often positive thoughts — to distract us,” he went on. 

“A potential pitfall of anger suppression is that it festers and can elevate blood pressure and lead to depression.”

Woman meditating

Research has shown that daily meditation will improve mood and cognitive function, according to a cardiologist. (iStock)

Dr. Small shared the following seven strategies to help people cope with anger.

1. Recognize your triggers

Try to develop an awareness of what triggers angry feelings, Small advised.

“For some people, being ignored ticks them off, while others have difficulty accepting criticism,” he told Fox News Digital.

“When you identify what sets you off, you will be better equipped to gain control of your anger.”

2. Learn to relax

Research has shown that daily meditation will improve mood and cognitive function, according to Small.

“This strategy involves regulating our behavior when we are angry by controlling our internal physiological responses like muscle tension and breathing,” the doctor said.

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“Recognizing your triggers gives you a heads-up of when to calm yourself and relax through deep, slow breathing, conjuring up serene mental imagery, and meditation.”

3. Think twice before erupting

“Because of the negative health and social effects of uncontrolled expressions of rage, try to avoid outbursts,” Small advised. 

“Rather than exploding, take a pause and recall what triggered your aggression.”

4. Get physical

Engaging in regular physical exercise — maybe even hitting a punching bag at the gym — can help reduce anger-induced stress, Small said.

Group of people running

Engaging in regular physical exercise can help reduce anger-induced stress, a doctor said. (iStock)

5. Alter your thinking

“If you find yourself in a fit of rage, you may not be thinking clearly, because your brain’s amygdala (emotional control center) overtakes its frontal lobe (reasoning center),” Small said. 

Attempt to replace your angry thoughts with rational ones, the doctor suggested.  

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“Also keep in mind that your anger is not going to solve the problem or frustration at hand,” he added.

6. Learn to communicate your needs

Taking an anger management class can help those who tend to “fly off the handle,” Small said, while assertiveness training can help people who suppress their anger learn to communicate their needs to others.

Support group

Taking an anger management class can help those who tend to “fly off the handle,” a cardiologist said. (iStock)

7. Consider professional help

“Anger issues may reflect other underlying mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression,” Small noted.

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Seeing a mental health professional can help people identify underlying problems and cope with anger in a more constructive way.

Fox News Digital reached out to the study authors for additional comment on their findings.

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.