Anger May Temporarily Impair Blood Vessel Function, Increasing Heart Attack and Stroke Risk

A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association has found that a brief episode of anger triggered by recalling past experiences may temporarily impair blood vessels’ ability to relax, which is essential for proper blood flow. This impairment has been linked to an increased risk of developing atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke.

Emotions and Cardiovascular Health: Exploring the Connection

Researchers from Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City investigated the impact of negative emotions—anger, sadness, and anxiety—on blood vessel function compared to a neutral emotion. The study involved 280 adults who were randomly assigned to one of four emotional tasks: recalling an angry memory, an anxious memory, reading depressing sentences, or repeatedly counting to 100 to induce an emotionally neutral state.

“Observational studies have linked feelings of negative emotions with having a heart attack or other cardiovascular disease events,” said lead study author Daichi Shimbo, M.D., a professor of medicine at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “The most common negative emotion studied is anger, and there are fewer studies on anxiety and sadness, which have also been linked to heart attack risk.”

Anger’s Short-Term Impact on Blood Vessel Function

The study found that tasks recalling past events that caused anger led to an impairment in blood vessel dilation for up to 40 minutes after the task. However, there were no statistically significant changes to participants’ blood vessel linings at any time points after experiencing the anxiety and sadness emotional tasks.

“We saw that evoking an angered state led to blood vessel dysfunction, though we don’t yet understand what may cause these changes,” Shimbo said. “Investigation into the underlying links between anger and blood vessel dysfunction may help identify effective intervention targets for people at increased risk of cardiovascular events.”

The study adds to the growing evidence that mental well-being can positively or negatively impact a person’s health and risk factors for heart disease and stroke. While not all the mechanisms on how psychological states and health impact cardiovascular health have been elucidated, this study takes us one step closer to defining such mechanisms.

The study’s limitations included that participants were young and apparently healthy, making it unclear whether the results would apply to older adults with other health conditions who would likely be taking medications. Participants were also observed in a health care setting rather than in real-world situations, and the study only assessed the short-term effects of evoked emotions.

Keyword/Phrase: Anger and Blood Vessel Function

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