In the movies, occasionally we’ll see a scene where a character clutches his chest after turning beet red from yelling and screaming with anger. We know that anger can cause short term high blood pressure and headaches. But can anger really give you a heart attack? Results from an anger management test shows that it just might.
The surprising anger management test is actually the electrocardiogram, or ECG, used in administrating physical stress tests. Dr. Rachel Lampert, associate professor of cardiology and electrophysiology at Yale University. has been heading up a project that studies T-wave alternans. T wave alternans, also known as TWA, are periodic beat-to-beat variations in the amplitude of the T wave in an electrocardiogram (ECG). If you look at a printout of an electrocardiogram, you’ll see the ups and downs of the electrical activity of the beating heart. The last up, or bump, is the T-wave.
The reason that the T-wave is important is that past studies have found and association between T-wave alternans and potentially fatal heart arrhythmia. So it’s been established that physical stress tests can T-wave alternans.
The importance of Dr. Lampert’s study, is that it shows that changes in the emotions and mind can also affect the T-wave alternans, making it a possible anger management test that can indicate a persons susceptibility to a heart attack. The way the test works is by hooking them up to an electrocardiogram as normal and then having them visualize a memory that has recently aggravated or angered them. The electrical spikes and the resulting T-wave alternans, shows results just as they would in a normal physical stress test.
Researchers are excited about this study because it shows explicitly how anger can lead to a heart attack. “Feeling angry can bring on arrhythmias,” Lampert said. “It shows what anger does to the heart electrical system. In the laboratory, anger is predictive of having arrhythmias in the future.”
Although the study is slated to last about five years, scientists are excited about the things that can be put into practice now. Because we now know that anger can possibly cause electrical instability in the heart, researchers can not look at promising ways to control the anger before it can cause problems.
The additional exciting part about this discovery is that it gives researchers a way to scientifically test common methods of relaxation techniques such as hypnosis, meditation, drugs, and so on to determine if they actually work.