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Angry Heart Can Kill

Anger Can Trigger Life-Threatening Heart Rhythm Disturbances in Heart Disease Patients
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WebMD Health News

Nov. 13, 2006 (Chicago) -- Don't get mad! A new study suggests that, for some people, anger can be deadly.

In a study of more than 1,000 people with heart disease who had implantable cardioverter defibrillators, being moderately angry more than tripled the risk of a life-threatening heart rhythm disturbance.

And becoming very angry, furious, or enraged increased the risk nearly 17-fold, says researcher Christine Albert, director of the Center for Arrhythmia Prevention at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The study was presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2006.

The Dangers of Anger

Study participants had a history of heart rhythm problems, also known as arrhythmias, some of which can be deadly.

The implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, used by the participants is a tiny device placed under the skin and connected by wires to the heart. It automatically shocks an irregularly beating heart back to normal rhythm.

Every few months, participants were asked to fill out questionnaires on their lifestyle and emotions. They were also asked to call their doctors any time their ICD delivered a shock.

The researchers then reviewed stored data from the ICDs before and after each shock to determine if the patients had suffered life-threatening disturbances.

Shocks Painful, Upsetting

The data showed that over a period of two years, participants experienced 199 heart rhythm disturbances severe enough to be fatal if not treated with a shock within minutes.

In 15 of these cases, the participants reported they were at least moderately angry in the hour before their ICD went off.

Though the shocks are lifesaving, Albert says, they are painful and disturbing.

"If a person has a whole bunch of shocks in a row, they can't sleep or eat. It's like posttraumatic stress disorder," she tells WebMD.

Studies suggest that patients who get frequent shocks don't fare as well as those who get fewer shocks from their devices, Albert says.

American Heart Association past President Robert O. Bonow, MD, who is chief of cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, says the study adds to growing evidence that anger, stress, and other negative emotions can trigger heart disease.

At least one study has shown that people are more likely to have a heart attackheart attack within two hours of a bout of anger than at other times of the day, he notes.

Avoiding Shocks

Albert advises staying calm any way you can. "If you can avoid anger in some way, you'll get fewer shocks," she says.

People who frequently become enraged may want to talk to a psychologist about anger management, she adds. In some cases, antianxiety medication may be helpful.

What about people who don't have ICDs?

It is possible anger could trigger potentially fatal heart rhythms in them as well, Albert says, though that would need further study.

Several studies have suggested anger disrupts the heart's electrical properties, making it more vulnerable to dangerous rhythm disturbances, she says.

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