8 signs of a heart attack, as study reveals anger increases risk for 40 minutes

Young woman having heart attack at home. Brunette woman with pain on heart in livingroom.
Anger and heart problems have long been linked, but scientists haven't fully understood why it happens until now. (Getty Images)

A new study has found that getting angry isn’t just bad for your emotional wellbeing - it’s also bad for your heart.

Even the feeling of rage that might bubble up when you remember something that ticked you off in the past can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke for up to 40 minutes, scientists have said.

The powerful emotion can impair blood vessel function and restrict blood flow, scientists from Columbia University Irving Medical Centre found.

The participants were asked to take on four randomly assigned studies. These included recalling a personal memory that angered them, remembering a moment of anxiety, reading a series of sentences designed to evoke sadness, and to count repeatedly to 100. The last task was considered emotionally neutral.

Researchers measured the participants’ blood pressure and blood vessel dilation at regular intervals after the tasks were completed. They also took blood samples to assess the health of their cells.

In their report, the scientists wrote: “Tasks that recalled past events causing anger led to an impairment in blood vessel dilation, from zero to 40 minutes after the task. The impairment was no longer present after the 40-minute mark.”

This was markedly different from the tasks that evoked anxiety and sadness, as no “statistically significant changes” were found. The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Dr Daichi Shimbo, cardiologist and lead author of the study, said: “Anger is bad for your blood vessel function. It impairs the function of your arteries, which is linked to future heart attack risk.”

Dr Shimbo added: “We showed that if you get angry once, it impairs your ability to dilate. But what if you get angry 10,000 times over a lifetime? This chronic insult to your arteries eventually may lead to permanent damage. That’s what we think is going on.”

Elderly man, worry and heart attack in a bedroom from stress, anxiety or crisis in a nursing home. Chest pain, panic and senior male with problem, issue and disaster or emergency waking up in a bed
Pain in the chest that spreads could be a sign of a heart attack. (Getty Images)

According to the British Heart Foundation, heart attack symptoms vary from person to person. The most common symptoms are:

  • Pain or discomfort in the chest that happens suddenly and does not go away

  • Pain that spreads to the left or right arm, or to the neck, jaw, back or stomach

  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed of faint

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Feeling sick or being sick

  • Cold sweat

The organisation noted that for some people, the pain or tightness is severe, while for others it’s uncomfortable and may feel like a burning pain similar to indigestion.

Less common symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • A sudden feeling of anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack

  • Coughing or wheezing due to a build-up of fluid in the lungs

Previous research suggested that men and women experienced different heart attack symptoms. But the BHF pointed to a 2019 study that found this to be untrue, adding that incorrectly assuming women suffer from different symptoms can lead to “misdiagnosis, delayed treatment and less intensive medical interventions being offered”.

If you recognise the signs of a heart attack and think you are having one, you should get medical help immediately.

Take the following steps:

  • Call 999 for an ambulance

  • Sit down and stay calm

  • Chew 300mg of aspirin if you have it and you’re not allergic

  • Wait for the ambulance

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