In the 1980s, doctors often suggested that waving your anger like a flag was good for the head, and cleansing for the soul.
Now, though, the advice is changing: Some recent scientific studies have shown that venting hostility can stir up stress hormones in your body in a way that, ultimately, could damage your heart.
A study by Dr. Murray Mittleman and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School -- to be published in September in the journal Circulation -- suggests, for instance, that an angry outburst can more than double the risk of a heart attack in some people.
And Dr. Redford Williams of Duke University -- who has been studying about 100 lawyers for decades in a continuing look at stress -- has found that the attorneys who said their anger levels were high in their years as students were four to five times more likely to die in their 50s than somewhat calmer colleagues.
Richard Friedman, a professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and director of research at the Mind-Body Medical Institute at Harvard, said these studies and others leave "little doubt" that episodes of anger are dangerous. "The notion that letting it out is protective," he said, .. "is not borne out in science."
At Duke, Dr. Williams, who has written a book titled "Anger Kills," has studied the long-term effects of hostility for years, but now is also trying to determine the day-by-day events that contribute to heart disease. He says he's finding that blood pressure goes up when people are exposed to violence -- not just to the real-life kind that's known to cause fight-or-flight hormones to surge, but also to "Rambo"-style movies.
Dr. Gail Ironson of the University of Miami found that cardiovascular patients who simply re-live an anger-producing episode suffered a 5 percent to 7 percent drop in the heart's pumping efficacy. Also, Brown University researchers recently injected fats directly into the bloodstream of 64 middle-aged men and found that the hostile, hot-headed ones took much longer to clear out the fat.