Duke Medicine HealthLine
Published: Nov. 26, 2007
Updated: Apr. 15, 2010
How Anger Affects Your Risk for Heart Disease
Anger can cause a cascade of physiological effects. Adrenalin levels spike, blood pressure and heart rate increase, immune responses are suppressed, and blood clots are more likely to form.
Several scientific studies have shown that people who have elevated levels of anger and hostile tendencies also have a more frequent incidence of heart disease. But how do we know whether anger actually contributed to these conditions -- if there is a cause-effect relationship between the two, couldn’t it also be the other way around?
Duke researcher Stephen Boyle, PhD, led a study to tease out coincidence from cause. He looked at the levels of C3 protein in the blood of a group of healthy veterans, following the changes in those levels over time. C3 is a marker of the inflammatory process, which is thought to contribute to the development and progression of heart disease.
Over the course of 10 years, Boyle says, the men who reported higher levels of anger, hostility, and depression also showed a steady increase in their levels of C3.
“The men in this study started out healthy -- no chronic illnesses or significant diseases of any kind,” says Boyle. “We controlled our analysis for risk behaviors such as smoking, drinking, inactivity, and overweight,” he says.
“So we’re really showing that the psychological factors are having an effect, and that the negative emotions and increase in inflammation aren’t the result of current health problems or an unhealthy lifestyle.”
As for the exact translation of emotion to physiology, Boyle speculates the mechanism is stress-related. “People with angry and hostile tendencies tend to interact with their environments in a way that leads to greater and more prolonged periods of stress -- which means more stress hormones. And stress hormones can initiate physiological events that increase these inflammatory markers.”