July 22, 2003 -- The classic Type A personality -- competitive, impatient, uptight -- is a heart attack waiting to happen. And that heart attack will likely happen sooner rather than later.
A new study teases out the fine points of personality and heart disease risk. Does Type A really trigger a heart attack? Or, as this study suggests, does the Type A person put themselves into more stressful situations -- leading to earlier heart attacks in five years, maybe less?
Caution: Early Death Ahead
In this study, researchers studied 2,398 men between 50 and 64 years old, all classified as having Type A personality to some degree. The men were examined for heart disease at roughly five-year intervals -- blood pressure, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, social class employment status, and incidence of chest pain were among the tests given.
Of the group, 7% developed heart disease in the first five years; 12% showed signs within the first nine years. They were also more likely to be in a high social class, smoking a couple packs of cigarettes a day, and have high cholesterol.
Those men with the strongest Type A scores were more likely to have heart attacks within five years. Those with lower scores had them a bit later, within nine years.
"It may be that Type A has a predictive 'shelf life'" -- that they will have heart attacks earlier than men with fewer Type A characteristics, writes lead researcher John E. J. Gallacher, PhD, an epidemiologist with the University of Wales College of Medicine. His study appears in the latest issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.
Stress: Get Some Relief
Whether Type A's have earlier heart attacks than other men is not clear from this study, says Peter Counihan, MD, a preventive cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Nevertheless, the study carries an important message: "Type A's are more likely to have a heart attack. I firmly believe that," Counihan tells WebMD.
"If you're a Type A personality, learn strategies for stress management, learn to channel your energies into something positive," he adds. "It works. I've seen it work. People who exercise, who do tae kwon do, whatever, funnel some emotional, physical excess energies into channels that reduce their stress."