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Heart Disease Health Center

Rein In the Rage: Anger and Heart Disease

Experts explore the connection between anger and heart disease, and give tips for getting your anger under control.
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Anger and Heart Disease: What's the Connection?

How might hotheads be hurting their hearts?

Scientists speculate that anger may produce direct biological effects on the heart and arteries. Negative emotions, such as anger, quickly activate the "fight-or-flight response." They also trigger the "stress axis," Kubzansky says. "That's a slightly slower response, but it activates a cascade of neurochemicals that are all geared toward helping you in the short run if you're facing a crisis."

While these stress responses mobilize us for emergencies, they might cause harm if repeatedly activated. "When they persist over time, they end up being potentially damaging," she says.

For example, excessive amounts of stress hormones may speed up the process of atherosclerosis, in which fatty plaques build up in arteries, Kubzansky says.

Anger may also disrupt the electrical impulses of the heart and provoke dangerous heart rhythm disturbances.

Other research suggests that stress hormones may lead to higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a substance linked to atherosclerosis and future heart disease risk. In 2004, Duke University scientists who studied 127 healthy men and women found that those prone to anger, hostility, and depression had two to three times higher CRP levels than their more placid peers.

"CRP levels at this range are associated with inflammation that is likely to eventually increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke," says researcher Edward Suarez, PhD. The findings were published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

Besides direct biological effects, lifestyle factors also come into play. Angry people may take worse care of themselves. "People who are chronically distressed may not behave in health-promoting ways," Kubzansky says. "We know that anxious, depressed, angry people are more likely to smoke, less likely to engage in physical activity, have poor nutritional habits and drink to excess."

Anger -- as well as anxiety, depression and other negative emotions -- are a part of life, Kubzansky says. They can serve useful purposes. "But if people find that they have them chronically and at high levels and can't seem to get away from it, I view it like pain. It's a signal that something needs to change. This is not how it's supposed to be."

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