A new study has shown that within the first two hours after an angry outburst, you're five times more likely to suffer a heart attack and four times more likely to have a stroke than if you had kept your cool.
To reach this conclusion, a trio of researchers from Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center performed a "systematic review" of nine independent studies of anger outbursts and follow-on stroke and heart-attack events.
"Despite the heterogeneity, all studies found that, compared with other times, there was a higher rate of cardiovascular events in the 2h following outbursts of anger," the researchers report in a paper published in the European Heart Journal.
Their conclusion was straightforward. "There is a higher risk of cardiovascular events shortly after outbursts of anger," they write.
Not that the risks of such life-threatening outcomes were unknown. The authors of an editorial in the same journal, discussing the paper, describe the known effects of anger in fine cardioboffinary detail: "Mediated through increases in circulating catecholamines, increased myocardial oxygen demand, coronary vasospasm, and increased platelet aggregability, anger can cause transient ischaemia, disruption of vulnerable plaques, and increased thrombotic potential. These changes can then result in myocardial or cerebral ischaemia or malignant arrhythmias."
To put it more simply, anger can kill you.
What's more, the researchers found that the more often you get ticked off, the higher your likelihood of a heart attack or stroke after blowing your top – which stands to reason, seeing as how all those vulnerable plaques and the like are floating around your bloodstream after repeated episodes of fury, wrath, ire, or outrage.
The authors are quick to acknowledge that their meta-analysis is a limited one, given the small number of studies which they correlated and the different methodologies used in each of the nine target studies.
That said, the editorial argues, the Bostonians are onto something. "The manuscript highlights important, consistent findings of an increased risk of diverse cardiovascular events after an acute outburst of anger," the European Heart Journal editorialists conclude.
"Given the known physiological effects of acute (and chronic) anger, these results are not surprising," they write. "The remaining question in all of these studies, however, is how to prevent these dangerous anger episodes."
The European Heart Journal says that attempts at using pharmacological interventions such as beta-blockers and serotonin-release inhibitors have proved to be less than effective in reducing death after non-fatal heart attacks (myocardial infarctions), and thus they have little faith in the use of drugs after an angry outburst to lessen the possibility of death by rage.
"Instead, a broader and more comprehensive approach to treating acute and chronic mental stress, and its associated psychological stressors," they write, "is likely to be needed to heal a hostile heart."
The chronically pissed-off among us might do better to recall the advice given by Ice to Action in Bernstein and Sondheim's "Cool" from West Side Story, "Take it slow / And Daddy-o / You can live it up and die in bed." ®