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Angry heart flutters prove most dangerous

May 5, 2005 By Roxanne Khamsi This article courtesy of Nature News.

Heightened emotion linked to premature cardiac contractions.

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Tony Blair may want to stay calm during the British elections: a study of people with cardiac troubles suggests that bursts of anger precede the most dangerous flutters of the heart.

Although Prime Minister Blair has no current heart troubles, he had a procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat in October 2004. The results may also hold true for those with healthy hearts, the researchers say.

To explore how feelings affect heartbeats, Matthew Stopper of the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, and his colleagues asked 24 patients with implanted defibrillator devices to keep a diary of their emotions.

Strong emotions such as anger can disrupt the electrical rhythms of the heart.
health psychologist, Doug Carroll
University of Birmingham, UK
The patients all had conditions that can disrupt electrical signals to the heart, causing an unhealthy quivering of the muscles. This in turn can lead to a cardiac arrest. Their implanted defibrillators are designed to detect these abnormalities and deliver a life-saving electric shock to put their hearts back in the right rhythm.

After receiving such a shock, participants in the study rated how angry they had felt beforehand on a scale of 1 to 5.

The medical team then retrieved information from the defibrillator devices to see how their hearts had gone wrong.

Arresting data

Out of the 56 shocks recorded during the study, the researchers found that in 100% of cases where people reported anger levels above 2, the arrhythmias were initiated by a series of rapid, premature heart contractions. This type of contraction is known to put an individual at greater risk of sudden arrest.

In contrast, only 68% of arrhythmias not preceded by angry feeling had this characteristic. Stopper and his fellow scientists presented their results on 5 May, at the Heart Rhythm Society's annual meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana.

"We know that the emotional distress brought on by earthquakes, missile attacks and even the loss of key football matches can trigger heart attacks," says health psychologist Doug Carroll of the University of Birmingham, UK. "It had been presumed that this results from an increased likelihood of clot formation. But this study tells us that strong emotions such as anger can also disrupt the electrical rhythms of the heart."

Stopper's team isn't sure exactly how anger has this effect. But they think that the adrenaline surge associated with a burst of anger might be the trigger.


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