Anger Can Impair Blood Vessel Function, Raising the Risk of Heart Disease

Losing your temper may do more than leave you in a bad mood. A new study suggests that it might also lead to blood vessel damage that increases the risk of heart disease.

Earlier research has found that damage to blood vessels that makes them stiffer, harder, and less able to efficiently relax can lead to an increased risk of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.

 The new study focused on whether anger and other negative emotions might directly contribute to this type of blood vessel damage.

For the new study, scientists randomly assigned 280 people to complete four different eight-minute tasks designed to elicit different emotions:

  • Recalling a memory that made them angry
  • Remembering a situation that made them anxious
  • Reading depressing sentences designed to make them feel sad
  • Repeatedly counting to 100 to maintain a neutral emotional state

Before, during, and after participants completed these tasks, scientists assessed their blood vessels to look for signs of impaired dilation (or lower ability to effectively pump blood), damage at the cellular level, and any reduced ability of cells to repair damage.

When people got angry, blood vessel dilation was impaired for up to 40 minutes after people completed the experiment, according to study results published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

 But there were no changes to blood vessels for the groups exposed to other emotions.

“We saw that evoking an angered state led to blood vessel dysfunction, though we don’t yet understand what may cause these changes,” lead study author Daichi Shimbo, MD, a professor at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, said in a statement.

Anger and Blood Vessel Dysfunction

“Impaired vascular function is linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke,” Dr. Shimbo added. “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.”