The Scary Thing Anger Can Do To Your Heart

The claim: If you have coronary microvascular dysfunction (CMD)—blockages in the smaller arteries surrounding the heart—new research shows that anger could exacerbate the condition, potentially triggering a heart attack.The research: Researchers from the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles measured heart rate, blood pressure, and the time between beats after creating emotional stress in 16 women with CMD and eight healthy women of similar age and weight. Both groups responded the same except when anger was triggered. In the women with CMD, anger increased the fight-or-flight mechanism that quickens heart rate, while also decreasing the nerve activity that calms.
What it means: Men and women both suffer from heart disease, but much of the last 40 years of heart disease research has focused on men, says study author C. Noel Bairey Merz, medical director for the Barbara Streisand Women’s Heart Center. “But the parts are different. Women have relatively smaller arteries, even when we adjust for our body size,” she says, which is due to hormonal differences. And the smaller the artery, the more likely it is to get blocked. For women with CMD, an angry outburst is enough to constrict the outer arteries and cause chest pain. “And if it goes on long enough, they can develop heart failure,” says Merz.
Bottom line: This is a small, preliminary study, but Merz believes she has pinpointed an important difference in women with CMD. She hopes to identify risk factors in future studies, as well as explore any other incidences that might trigger CMD. In the meantime, if you’ve had chest pain, ask your cardiologist to evaluate your microvascular health.