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Study shows frequent anger can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke

The type of vascular impairment observed in the study is a known forerunner to long-term cardiovascular damage.
Illustration of a human heart with blood vessels
Posted at 4:29 PM, May 01, 2024

Anger might just be a deadly sin after all. A new study found that people who frequently get mad may have an increased risk of developing heart disease.

Repeated feelings of anger appear to affect the blood vessels’ ability to open, according to the research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The type of vascular impairment observed in the study is a known forerunner to long-term damage that can lead to heart attack and stroke, said the National Institutes of Health, which funded the study.

Researchers from Columbia University Irving Medical Center, St. John’s University in New York and other institutions conducted their study with 280 healthy adults between 18 to 73 years old in the New York City area. The participants did not have a history of smoking, were not on any medications and did not have a history of diagnosed mood disorders.

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They were randomly separated into four groups and given various tasks to elicit anger, sadness, anxiety or maintain a neutral emotional state.

The researchers measured blood flow changes in vessels in each participant’s dominant arm before, during and after the tasks, the study said. They found the ability of the participants’ blood vessels to dilate was reduced in the anger group in comparison to the control group.

The groups who experienced anxiety or sadness did not show the same effects, the study said.

It’s unclear why anger had this observed effect on blood vessel function, but the study did not look at those factors.

Dr. Daichi Shimbo, a cardiologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center who led the study, said several factors could also be affecting the phenomenon such as changes caused by stress hormones or activation of the autonomic nervous system, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Future research will include more mechanisms to study the different factors at play and they may also explore if positive emotions have an effect on the heart — or possibly even counteract anger’s effects — as well.