Skip to content

    Stress Management Health Center

    Font Size

    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.

    Recommended Related to Stress Management

    Home for the Holidays

    The holidays offer plenty of reasons to be stressed out and anxious -- the gifts you haven’t wrapped, the pile of cookie exchange invites, the office parties. But for many, the biggest source of holiday stress is family -- the family dinner, the obligations, and the burden of family tradition. And if you’re fighting clinical depression, or have had depression in the past, the holiday stress can be a trigger for more serious problems. “There’s this idea that holiday gatherings with family are supposed...

    Read the Home for the Holidays article > >

    “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

    Today on WebMD

    Hands breaking pencil in frustration
    stethoscope and dollars
    Woman with stressed, fatigue
    fatigued woman
    hand gripping green rubber ball
    family counseling
    stress at work
    frayed rope

    WebMD Special Sections