Jim Morrison had one, so did Salvador Dali and Elvis Presley; no, the answer is not â€œa small poodleâ€, it is â€œa heart attackâ€ and we know that heart attacks can be deadly. What may not be so widely appreciated is that heart attacks can have emotional causes but as a new study has shown, angry or anxious episodes increase your chances of a heart attack in the short term.
In the new study researchers gathered participants with acute coronary occlusion, which is a blockage in an artery that supplies blood to the heart. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney and the subjects had all been admitted to a primary angioplasty centre in Sydney having had a suspected heart attack. In the four days following their admission with a heart the 313 subjects were questioned about their activities in the 48 hours leading up to the heart attack. Specifically they were asked to rate their levels of anger in those two days on a scale from â€œ1â€ (calm) to â€œ7â€ (enraged and out of control, throwing objects and hurting self or others).
The results showed that people who had experienced anger at level 5 (very angry, body tense, clenching fists or teeth, ready to burst) or above in the two days prior to symptoms were 8.5 times more likely to have a heart attack in the two hours following the anger episode. Additionally, people who experienced acute anxiety episodes were 9.5 times more likely to experience a heart attack in the following two hours.
This is probably because anger and anxiety cause increases in heart rate, raised blood pressure, narrowing of the blood vessels and increased clotting. Of course the people in this study were a group presenting with heart attacks so they may not be representative of the general population but it still suggests that for people at risk then an acute anger or anxiety episode increases your heart risk for a couple of hours.
As a result we can quite rightly add anger and anxiety to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking as risk factors for heart attack. Your emotions are intimately bound up with your physical health and if you are happy, your heart is happy too.