How anger affects your heart health

We all know someone who always seems angry. He will lose his cool at the drop of a hat, or she will begin screaming in the heat of an argument. If that person is you, take warning: You are doing damage to your heart.

We all know someone who always seems angry. He will lose his cool at the drop of a hat, or she will begin screaming in the heat of an argument. If that person is you, take warning: You are doing damage to your heart.

“Let’s be clear, moderate anger is not impacting your heart’s health,” said Kent Morris, M.D., cardiologist with Norton Heart Specialists. “In fact, being able to express your frustration is healthy for your mind and body. When that anger becomes explosive and more frequent, it can begin affecting your heart.”

The science behind how anger affects the heart continues to be researched, Dr. Morris explained. Emotions, including anger and hostility, quickly activate the body’s “fight or flight” response. When “fight or flight” kicks in, stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, speed up your heart rate and breathing, creating a burst of energy while at the same time your blood pressure rises and blood vessels constrict.

“‘Fight or flight’ is a normal, healthy response and prepares the body to take on the challenge — physical, verbal or emotional — that lies ahead,” Dr. Morris said. “Where this response becomes problematic is in the frequency and duration.”

The repeated rush of cortisol and high adrenaline levels can cause wear and tear on the heart and arteries. It can also speed up the development of atherosclerosis, in which fatty plaques build up in the arteries.

“During episodes of anger, the heart pumps harder, blood vessels constrict, blood pressure surges and the amount of glucose, or sugar, in the blood increases,” Dr. Morris said. “All of these factors can cause damage to artery walls, putting you more at risk for cardiovascular disease.”

The effects of anger on the heart are similar to anxiety and depression. Drastic swings in emotions or extended periods of peak emotions can impact the overall health of the heart and entire body.

“Frequent or excessive anger may be your way of reacting to excessive or extended periods of extreme stress,” Dr. Morris said. “Working to reduce that stress is critical to your overall health and well-being.”

Dr. Morris encourages finding healthy ways to cope with stress and anger, such as exercise, laughter, meditation and talking to trusted friends. Anger management classes or personalized therapy also are great options for making improvements in your life. If your employer offers an employee assistance program for confidential counseling services, take advantage of it. Or maybe your church or faith-based group may offer counseling or support. Also, talk to your primary care physician about what would be best for you. Together, you can come up with a plan to improve your heart health — and your happiness.


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