Hostile, Competitive Types May Be Harming Their Hearts

MONDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) — Hostile people, especially those who are manipulative and aggressive, may be paying a price in terms of heart health, a new study finds.

These types of people showed a thickening in the walls of their neck arteries tied to a 40 percent higher risk of having the artery narrow. And that could boost their risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke, the researchers concluded.

“The public is often worried about stress, but sometime it’s how our personalities interact with stress that can have an effect on health,” noted Dr. Ralph Sacco, president of the American Heart Association and chairman of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He was not involved in the study.

“Knowledge is the first step to making behavior change,” he added. “If there are things that we know, in terms of stress and antagonism, it may help change people’s behavior if they know it’s related to vascular risk.”

The report appears in the Aug. 16 online edition of the journal Hypertension.

For the study, a research team led by Angelina Sutin, a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. National Institute on Aging, collected data on more than 5,600 people in four villages in Sardinia, Italy.

The researchers found that those who had high scores for antagonistic traits had more thickening of the neck (carotid) arteries, compared with more agreeable people.

Thickness of carotid artery walls is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke, the researchers note.

After three years, people who scored higher on antagonism or low on agreeableness, particularly those who were manipulative and quick to anger, continued to have thickening of their artery walls. These traits were also predictive of greater of arterial thickening, Sutin’s group found.

People who scored in the lowest 10 percent of agreeableness and had the highest levels of antagonism had about a 40 percent heightened risk for thickened arterial walls, they add.

In a journal news release, Sutin said that “people who tend to be competitive and more willing to fight for their own self-interest have thicker arterial walls, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”

“Agreeable people tend to be trusting, straightforward and show concern for others, while people who score high on antagonism tend to be distrustful, skeptical and at the extreme cynical, manipulative, self-centered, arrogant and quick to express anger,” she added.

In general, men had more thickening of the artery walls than women. But among women who were antagonistic, the risk quickly caught up with that of men. “Whereas women with agreeable traits had much thinner arterial walls than men with agreeable traits, antagonism had a much stronger association with arterial thickness in women,” Sutin said.

Usually, thickening of the artery walls is a sign of age; however, young people with antagonistic traits already had thickening of the artery wall, she added.

This finding remained consistent even after lifestyle factors such as smoking were taken into account, the researchers noted.

The findings — consistent with research in more urban regions — may apply to others in the world, whether they live in smaller towns or cosmopolitan areas, Sutin said. “This may not be unique to Italians.”

Commenting on the study, Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine said that “the active, toxic, ingredient in the infamous ‘Type A’ personality profile is hostility.”

Angry people do tend to be less healthy, he said. “The burgeoning field of psycho-immunology reveals the multiple and powerful pathways by which our emotional state influences hormones and neurotransmitter levels, in turn influencing the functioning of our immune and nervous systems – and perhaps everything else,” Katz said.

The independent effect of chronic anger appeared to be as strong as that of other key risk factors, such as high blood pressure, although this was a study of association, not cause and effect, Katz noted.

“We have ample reason to conclude that chronic anger is bad for us,” he said. “Now the challenge: in a world of many irritations and stressors, how do we [make] chronic anger and hostility go away? That many benefits would ensue if we met this challenge — for both [people’s] carotid arteries and society — seems abundantly clear.”

More information

For more information on heart attack and stroke, visit the American Heart Association.