Heart failure is one condition that must not be neglected and for those who are at risk, controlling one's temper and staying away from mentally stressful situations could help reduce the risk of facing this life-threatening disease.

The study titled, "Impact of Mental Stress and Anger on Indices of Diastolic Function in Patients with Heart Failure," was published in the Journal of Cardiac Failure and conducted by Yale University. It evaluated the effects of anger and stress on the ability of the heart to relax, as well as refill between contractions of the muscles. This ability of the heart is scientifically known as a diastolic function. Scientists have long associated diastolic function with mortality risk.

For one week, the participants who had heart failure with reduced ejection fraction completed a daily questionnaire that sought to draw out their experiences of negative emotions, particularly stress and anger. The questions let them describe what they felt the previous day, roughly 24 hours prior to answering.

Aside from the questionnaire, they were made to complete a standardised "mental stress protocol" where they were tasked to solve challenging math problems, then they had to describe a recent stressful event. Their diastolic functions in both activities were monitored using echocardiograms.

The researchers found that those patients who had bouts with anger in the week preceding the mental stress protocol showed a bad baseline resting diastolic pressure. They also saw how stress led to changes in diastolic function. There was a decrease in the heart's early relaxation and an increase in diastolic pressure.

Kristie Harris, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral associate in cardiovascular medicine at Yale said that it is common for patients with heart failure to experience mental stress. Harris noted that this is partly due to the difficulties associated with self-management of the disease. There is also the worsening functional limitations that patients need to deal with. In addition, symptoms often exacerbate and hospitalisations become frequent, all leading to a stressful environment.

Broken heart
Broken heart Photo: CCO Public Domain

A Yale clinical psychologist and the senior author of the study, Matthew Burg, stated that stress management has helped in reducing the risk associated with patients who have ischemic heart disease. More work is needed to pinpoint how stress increases the vulnerability of a patient from suffering heart failure. Along with this, further studies are also needed in determining whether undergoing stress management can improve risk factors of patients.