Feb. 24, 2009 -- How the heart handles anger seems to predict who's at risk for a life-threatening irregular heartbeat. Negative emotions like hostility and depression have long been considered risks for developing heart disease, and deaths from cardiac arrest rise after disasters such as earthquakes.
But research released this week goes a step farther, uncovering a telltale pattern in the EKGs of certain heart patients when they merely recall a maddening event -- an anger spike that foretold bad news.
In already vulnerable people, "anger causes electrical changes in the heart," said Dr. Rachel Lampert, a Yale University cardiologist who led the work. When that happens even in the doctor's office, "that means they're more likely to have arrhythmias when they go out in real life."
At issue is cardiac arrest, when the heart's electrical system goes haywire and heartbeat abruptly stops. Survival requires a fast electrical shock from a device called a defibrillator.To track anger's effect, Lampert gave EKGs to 62 patients who had defibrillators implanted in their chests because of preexisting heart disease. When they recounted something that had made them angry, some patients experienced beat-to-beat EKG alterations that were similar to irregular heartbeat-predicting alterations that doctors can spot during treadmill testing. read more