During my own medical school education, there was a lot of buzz about the type A personality. This personality style describes people who are obsessed with time management and are high-achieving workaholics, rigidly organized, and status-conscious. The three major emotional symptoms of this personality type are free-floating hostility, triggered by even insignificant events; impatience from a heightened sense of time urgency; and a highly competitive drive, which causes stress.
At the time my colleagues and I were buzzing about the type A personality, it was believed to be a significant risk factor for the development of heart disease. A long term study by cardiologists of men ages thirty-five to thirty-nine estimated that the risk of coronary heart disease was doubled in those with type A behavior patterns. For the first time in my medical education, I learned that personality could influence disease.
1. Reduce and Manage Your Anger
Years later, I discovered the only real disease-predicting aspect of type A personality is hostility. Follow-up research determined that anger, hostility, aggression, a generally resistant and stubborn attitude, and defiance of authority have been found to be positive predictors for developing disease. Other traits of the type A personality may be related to heart disease but are not shown to directly cause it. “The consensus is really that it is not all aspects of type-A behavior, but just the hostility component” that causes coronary heart disease, said Redford Williams, the director of the behavioral medicine research center at Duke University School of Medicine.
Researchers have determined that hostility, independent of its contribution to unhealthy behaviors, contributes to the development of heart disease through increased blood pressure, erratic heart rate, fat accumulation, and abnormal platelet function—which means that it plays a role in the clot development that causes a heart attack. Studies reveal that besides hostility, anxiety, depression, and low levels of social support also may be risk factors in the development of cardiovascular disease.
A prospective study conducted in 1996 at Harvard School of Public Health involving 1305 men found those with the highest levels of anger may be a risk factor for heart disease in men.
2. Effectively Manage Your Stress
Two new studies discovered the physiological changes that link stress and sudden heart attacks. German researchers found as stress increases, so do the levels of white blood cells that promote disease. These high levels of white blood cells may cause the progression of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), plaques to rupture, and heart attacks.
The second study found another way for sudden stress, overexertion or emotional shock can trigger a heart attack. The research determined that high levels of stress which triggers your body releases a cascade of hormones, that can cause the release of bacterial biofilms from the lining of your arteries, which can initiate the sudden separation of a plaque from a coronary artery and cause a heart attack.
For more information about stress management see our new article below and archives on stress.