Angry Heart Can Kill
Anger Can Trigger Life-Threatening Heart Rhythm Disturbances in Heart Disease Patients
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
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
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
"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.
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
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