Anger has a toxic effect on heart! Getting angry for even few seconds can cause damage: Study

The research suggests that frequent episodes of provoked anger could impair heart health by affecting the cells that line our blood vessels.

ByChetana Belagere

Published May 03, 2024 | 7:00 AMUpdatedMay 03, 2024 | 7:00 AM

Anger has a toxic effect on heart! Getting angry for even few seconds can cause damage: Study

The next time you find yourself fuming at a red light or seething over a traffic snarl, try and keep calm as your heart may be paying the price of that anger.

According to a new study conducted by researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Centre, just a few minutes of recalled anger can significantly impair the function of endothelial cells, which are vital for maintaining the health of blood vessels.

The research suggests that frequent episodes of provoked anger — like road rage, fights at home, office, or even irritation over traffic — could impair heart health by affecting the endothelial cells that line our blood vessels.

The study also provides a scientific basis for why managing emotions could be key to preventing cardiovascular disease.

Also Read: Doctors react to cases of sudden cardiac arrest in teens

‘Scarce data’

The authors of the study said that it was common for people to feel negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and sadness daily. There was some research about the fact that these feelings could increase the risk of heart problems.

Interestingly, not much was known about how these emotions — when they were intentionally stirred up — affected the health of the blood vessels. Hence, the study was designed to see if provoked anger would affect heart health.

“The experiencing of a negative emotion — including anger, anxiety, and sadness — is common and associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease events,” said the study.

“There is scarce data on the effects of provoked anger, anxiety, and sadness on vascular endothelial health,” it explained.

So, what happened when 280 adults were made to get sad and angry, feel anxious and become calmer?

The study involved 280 apparently healthy adults who were assigned to either recall an anger-inducing event, a sad event, or an anxiety-inducing event, or also participate in a neutral task — all for eight minutes.

The health of their endothelial cells was measured before and after these tasks using a variety of indicators, including endothelium-dependent vasodilation – a measure of how well the blood vessels expand in response to pressure.

Results showed a marked difference in endothelial function among those who recalled angry events compared to those in the neutral group.

“There was a group with multiplied-by-time interaction for the anger versus neutral condition on the change in reactive hyperemia index score from baseline to 40 minutes,” the study noted, indicating a deterioration in vascular health following anger provocation.

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Which emotion affected the heart the most?

Interestingly, while anger had a clear negative effect, the emotions of anxiety and sadness did not show a significant impact on endothelial function.

This suggested that not all negative emotions were equal in their psychological effects, particularly when it came to heart health.

“We found that anger — but not the other emotions we studied — had an adverse impact on vascular health,” said Daichi Shimbo, a cardiologist and professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology in the Department of Medicines at Columbia University Irving Medical Centre, and first author of the study.

“So, there is something about anger that I call ‘cardiotoxic’. It’s a possible mechanism of why feelings of anger may be associated with increased heart disease risk,” he added.

“Understanding that anger can have a real and immediate effect on our heart health suggests that we need targeted strategies to manage this common emotion,” the study said.

The study raised important questions about how everyday emotions influenced long-term health and stressed the importance of emotional regulation as part of a healthy lifestyle.

More research was needed to explore the mechanisms through which anger affected vascular health and to develop interventions that could mitigate these harmful effects.

Also Read: Can chewing on ginger save you from dying from a heart attack? 

What do Indian doctors say?

Dr Mukherjee Madivada, a senior interventional cardiologist and the managing director of Pulse Heart Centre, said the recent study examining the acute effects of provoked anger on endothelial cell health vealas a significant insight. Emotions, particularly anger, can directly impair cardiovascular function by affecting endothelium-dependent vasodilation.

“This finding aligns with broader research suggesting that emotional health is deeply intertwined with physical health, particularly cardiovascular health. Managing emotions effectively is not just beneficial for psychological well-being but is also crucial in mitigating the risk of cardiovascular disease,” he explained.

This also stressed the importance of integrated approaches to health that consider both emotional and physical factors.

The heart specialist added that emotional stressors — whether from work, personal life, or unexpected life changes — have been associated with increased cardiovascular risk.

While experts argue that anger has a lot to do with threat, it is both experiencing threat and expressing threat to others.

This process is triggered in the base of the brain — the amygdala — and it is that which stimulates sympathetic arousal that prepares the fight-or-flight response of the body.

“This study showed the connection between physical health, heart health, and brain health. Addressing mental health is crucial for cardiovascular health,” explained Mukherjee.

He said regular physical activity, maintaining social connections, and employing stress-reduction techniques — like meditation — could help maintain cardiovascular health.

(Edited by Arkadev Ghoshal)