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Anger Leads To Heart Attack


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

Anger and other high emotions can trigger deadly heart rhythms in certain vulnerable people, according to a Yale University study.

Studies conducted earlier have linked negative emotions like hostility and depression with risks for developing heart disease, and have also shown that events such as earthquakes, war or even the loss of a World Cup Soccer match can increase rates of death from sudden cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops circulating blood.

"It has definitely been shown in all different ways that when you put a whole population under a stressor, that sudden death will increase," said Dr. Rachel Lampert, an associate professor of cardiology and electrophysiology of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and a lead researcher of the study. "Our study starts to look at how does this really affect the electrical system of the heart," she said.

Dr. Lampert and her colleagues studied 62 adults with heart diseases. All the patients had cardioverter defibrillators implanted in their chests (ICDs) in order to detect dangerous heart rhythms or arrhythmia, and deliver an electrical shock to restore a normal heart beat. About three months after ICD implantation, each of the patients went through a mental stress test, during which they had to recount something that made them angry or aggravated. Meanwhile, the team of experts were performing a test called T-Wave Alternants which measured irregular, unstable heartbeat of the participants.

Afterwards, the participants were followed for 3 years in order to determine which of them later had a cardiac arrest and was in need for a shock from their implantable cardioverter-defibrillators. Over the next 37 months, 16 per cent of the patients experienced arrhythmia that set off their implanted defibrillators, and they were found to have higher T-wave alternans than those who did not have arrhythmia.

The results revealed that those individuals who had the highest anger-induced electrical instability were 10 times more likely to have arrhythmia at a later time, then anybody else. Dr. Lampert added that the findings suggest that anger can turn out to be deadly for patients with heart problems, especially for those who are already vulnerable to this type of electrical disturbance in the heart. "Yes, anger really does impact the heart's electrical system in very specific ways that can lead to sudden death," she said.

Now Dr. Lampert is conducting another study to figure out whether anger management therapy might help to decrease the risk of arrhythmia in this group of high-risk patients.

However, the scientist 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 said.

The researchers say that though more research is still to be done, the current study is the first evidence showing that the changes in the ECG brought on by anger and other negative emotions, can predict arrhythmia and may be the cause of some cases of a heart attack. More than 400,000 people die each year from a sudden cardiac death in the United States.

The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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