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Study: Work Stress and Anger Can Increase Risk of Heart Attack

Two interesting studies have come up over the past month on heart attacks. Scientists have found a temporary condition that can quadruple your chance of having a heart attack. Scientists have found that job stress leads to more heart attacks, but there is a treatment that can reduce job stress-related heart attacks by 50 percent.

Curious? The first study involved almost 4,000 patients, and was conducted at Harvard, with results published in the American Journal of Cardiology. The surprising condition that could lead to a quadrupling of heart attacks was anger. The researchers collected data from patients who were part of a study between 1989 and 1996 to determine what brought on their heart attacks.

A total of 1,484 participants reported having outbursts of anger in the previous year, 110 of whom had those episodes within two hours of the onset of their heart attacks. The researchers found that with each increment of anger intensity, the risk of heart attack in the next two hours rose.

That risk was 1.7 times greater after feeling “moderately angry, so hassled it shows in your voice”; and 2.3 times greater after feeling “very tense, body tense, clenching fists or teeth” and 4.5 times greater after feeling “enraged! lost control, throwing objects, hurting yourself or others.”

Why does anger increase heart attacks? Anger induces a fight-or-flight response in the body, releasing chemicals epinephrine and norepinephrine that raise blood pressure and heart rate, constrict blood vessels and promote stickiness in platelets. All these are not good for the cardiovascular system and can lead to a heart attack.

The second study looked at job stress and heart attacks, and found that the magical cure with a 50 percent success in reducing heart attacks from job stress was a healthy lifestyle. The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. In this study, researchers studied 102,000 men and women, ages 17 to 70, in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Sweden and Finland. Over 10 years, the rate of coronary artery disease was 18.4 per 1,000 for people with job stress and 14.7 per 1,000 for those without job stress

The lifestyles measured were smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise, inactivity and obesity. Those with a healthy lifestyle had no risk factors, while people with a moderately unhealthy lifestyle had one risk factor. Two or more risk factors was an unhealthy lifestyle.

What is fascinating is the extraordinary impact of lifestyle on the reduction of heart-attack risk with job stress: When lifestyle and work were factored together, the heart disease rate was 31.2 per 1,000 for people with job stress and an unhealthy lifestyle and decreased to 15 per 1,000 for those with job stress and a healthy lifestyle.

Take-home points? Anger is dangerous for the heart, and escalating expressions of anger, far from being cathartic, appear to hurt the body. And if you are at risk for heart disease and have job stress, you can decrease that risk by changing your lifestyle.