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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.

Anger and Heart Disease: What's the Connection? continued...

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."

Anger and Heart Disease: How to Get Anger Under Control

Anger is intertwined with other problems that may end up harming the heart, says psychologist Wayne Sotile, PhD. "If you mismanage anger, it's going to compromise your most intimate relationships," he says. "It's going to isolate you from others. The likelihood increases that you'll get depressed, and you're going to cause problems in your life that increase anxiety and worry."

Sotile is director of psychological services for the Wake Forest University Healthy Exercise and Lifestyle Programs and a special consultant in behavioral health for the Center for Cardiovascular Health at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C.

Counseling and anger management classes can help the chronically angry to get their deep-seated emotions under control. But you can take more immediate steps, too, experts say.

First, when you feel the heat rising, figure out how to calm yourself. "You do this by learning to recognize the signs that your fuse has been lit and stamping it out before you explode," Sotile writes in his book, Thriving with Heart Disease.

For example, some experts recommend taking a time out by counting to 10 before responding or by walking away from the situation.

Countering angry thoughts helps, too, Sotile says. "When you're angry, remind yourself that others are usually doing their best. No one sets out in the morning with the mission to infuriate you."

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