Feeling anger coming on? Stop and take a deep breath. Your health and your heart could depend on it.
Anger, and other equally strong emotions, can trigger potentially deadly heart rhythms in certain people who are already vulnerable, Reuters reports, citing a study from a Yale University cardiologist.
For those people, who again are already susceptible, "anger causes electrical changes in the heart," said Dr. Rachel Lampert, the Yale cardiologist who led the study, which appears in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
When that happens, "they're more likely to have arrhythmias when they go out in real life."
Lampert told Reuters the study suggests that anger can be deadly, at least for people who are already vulnerable to this type of electrical disturbance in the heart.
"It's definitely been shown in all different ways that when you put a whole population under a stressor that sudden death will increase," Lampert told Reuters. "It says yes, anger really does impact the heart's electrical system in very specific ways that can lead to sudden death," she said.
The issue is cardiac arrest, when the heart's electrical system goes haywire and heartbeat abruptly stops. Survival requires a fast electrical shock from a defibrillator.
Here is what Lampert did to track anger's effect:
She gave EKGs to 62 patients who had defibrillators because of preexisting heart disease.
When they thought about something that had made them angry, some patients had beat-to-beat EKG alterations similar to irregular heartbeat-predicting alterations that doctors can spot during treadmill testing.
The emotional stress was producing a red flag like physical stress can. But it did that without causing the jump in heart rate that exercise does, suggesting anger's Adrenalin rush may act directly on heart cells.
People whose EKGs showed a big anger spike were 10 times more likely to have their defibrillators fire a lifesaving shock in the next three years than similarly ill patients whose hearts didn't react to anger, Lampert reported in the study.
But she cautioned against extrapolating the results to people with normal hearts.
"How anger and stress may impact people whose hearts are normal is likely very different from how it may impact the heart which has structural abnormalities," she told Reuters.
Next she will study whether anger-reducing techniques might help those high-risk patients avoid irregular heartbeats.