Harvard Heart Letter

From irritated to enraged: Anger's toxic effect on the heart

The effect is small and short-lived, but anger can trigger a heart attack, stroke, or risky heart rhythm.

Have you ever been so angry that it "made your blood boil"? In fact, anger can trigger physiological changes that affect your blood, temporarily elevating your risk of a heart attack or related problem. Research shows that in the two hours after an angry outburst, a person has a slightly higher risk of having chest pain (angina), a heart attack, a stroke, or a risky heart rhythm.

"Anger causes an outpouring of stress hormones like adrenaline, which makes your heart beat faster and your blood pressure rise. It also makes your blood more likely to clot, which is especially dangerous if your arteries are narrowed by cholesterol-laden plaque," says Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He created the widely accepted anger assessment scale (see "The anger rating scale") used in anger-related research worldwide.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »