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Stress Management Health Center

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How Anger Can Hurt Your Heart

WebMD Magazine - Feature

Everyone gets angry. It’s a normal emotion, and there’s probably a good reason why you feel that way.

The way you handle your anger can make a difference to your heart, though.

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“If you have a destructive reaction to anger, you are more likely to have heart attacks,” says cardiologist Dave Montgomery, MD, of Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta.

That’s true whether intense anger makes you fiery or quietly fume.

If you can tell people in an appropriate way that you’re angry, that’s a good sign, says Laura Kubzansky, PhD, MPH, of Harvard School of Public Health. High levels of anger are the issue, not ordinary anger, says Kubzansky, who has studied how stress and emotions affect heart disease.

How Anger Fires Up the Heart

Emotions such as anger and hostility ramp up your "fight or flight” response. When that happens, stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, speed up your heart rate and breathing.

You get a burst of energy. Your blood vessels tighten. Your blood pressure soars.

You’re ready to run for your life or fight an enemy. If this happens often, it causes wear and tear on your artery walls.

Research backs that up.

In one report, researchers found that healthy people who are often angry or hostile are 19% more likely than calmer people to get heart disease. Among people with heart disease, those who usually feel angry or hostile fared worse than others.

So if anger has you in its crosshairs, it’s time to shift the way you react to it.

4 Things to Tell Yourself When You’re Angry

Learn to notice the signs that you feel angry, says Wayne Sotile, PhD, author of Thriving With Heart Disease.

The next time you feel your anger and heart rate rise, remember these four things, so you can get a grip fast:

1. "I can't accomplish anything by blaming other people, even if they are responsible for the problem. I'll try another angle."

2. "Will this matter 5 years from now? (Five hours? Five minutes?)"

3. "If I'm still angry about this tomorrow, I'll deal with it then. But for now, I'm just going to cool off."        

4. "Acting angry is not the same as showing that I care."

Consider counseling if your feelings still get the best of you. Ask your doctor for a referral. She’ll want to help. 

"It’s really important that physicians start taking care of the whole person, including their moods and their lives, because it matters,” says New York cardiologist Holly S. Andersen, MD.

Reviewed on April 27, 2015

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