This Emotion Is Now Linked to Stroke and Heart Attack Risk

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Side profile of angry man.
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You’ve probably noticed how anger can spike your heart rate. The negative effects on the body aren’t as fleeting as the emotion itself, though.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association is the first to show that anger is linked to impairment of blood vessels.

Specifically, frequent anger limits blood vessels’ ability to widen. Such impairment is a precursor to atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty deposits in blood vessel walls), which in turn can lead to heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.

These findings apply to recurrent anger. Occasional anger is normal and generally has little effect on heart health, the researchers say.

“If you’re a person who gets angry all the time, you’re having chronic injuries to your blood vessels,” says study leader Dr. Daichi Shimbo, a cardiologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “It’s these chronic injuries over time that may eventually cause irreversible effects on vascular health and eventually increase your heart disease risk.”

To conduct the study, researchers recruited 280 healthy adults aged 18 to 73, with their average age being 26. They didn’t have heart disease or risk factors like a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, or irregular cholesterol levels. Nor did participants smoke, take medication or have a history of diagnosed mood disorders.

Researchers measured blood flow changes in the vessels of each participant’s dominant arm, and then randomly assigned participants to perform a task meant to elicit anger, anxiety, sadness or a neutral emotional state.

Participants assigned to the “anger” group were told to talk for eight minutes about a personal experience that triggered that emotion. Researchers again measured their blood flow immediately after the task, and three, 40, 70 and 100 minutes later.

The blood vessels of these participants demonstrated a reduced ability to dilate compared to those in the control group, who were tasked with counting numbers out loud for eight minutes to induce a neutral emotional state. This vessel impairment lasted for up to 40 minutes after the anger-inducing task.

The blood vessels of participants assigned to do anxiety- or sadness-inducing tasks weren’t affected.

Researchers say that the mechanisms behind anger’s effect on the body are still unclear, though.

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