Do you have a type A personality? Do you often feel rushed? Are you extremely achievement-oriented and competitive? Would others describe you as aggressive—maybe even hostile? Over the past two decades, a number of studies have linked some characteristics of the type A personality—particularly hostility—with an increased risk for high blood pressure and heart disease . But findings from other studies have been inconsistent.

A new study in the October 22/29 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association investigated whether having the three main type A characteristics (impatience, competitiveness, and hostility), depression , and/or anxiety as a young adult increased the long-term risk of developing high blood pressure. The researchers found that both impatience and hostility increased the risk of high blood pressure by almost two-fold.

About the Study

The researchers used data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which investigated the development of cardiovascular risk factors in young adults. This study included over 3,000 black and white individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 when the study began.

The researchers scored the participants’ responses to questionnaires that assessed the following behavior characteristics (higher scores indicated higher tendency of a particular trait):

  • Impatience – feeling pressured for time, getting upset when having to wait
  • Competitiveness – having a strong need to excel in most things, being bossy or dominating
  • Hostility – being hostile or aggressive
  • Depression – having a depressed mood, experiencing feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and sleep and appetite disturbance
  • Anxiety – having unpleasant feelings of tension, apprehension, nervousness, and worry

Blood pressure was measured before the study began, and two, five, seven, 10, and 15 years later. High blood pressure was defined as having systolic blood pressure of 140 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) or higher, having diastolic blood pressure 90 mmHg or higher, or currently taking blood pressure-lowering medications. At the beginning of the study, participants who were pregnant, or who had high blood pressure or a history of heart attack or chest pain were excluded.

The Findings

Over the course of 15 years, 15% of the participants developed high blood pressure.

After adjusting for factors known to influence blood pressure, including age, race, gender, body mass index (BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height), physical activity, and alcohol consumption, the researchers found that impatience and hostility were associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure.

The participants with the highest impatience scores were 1.84 times as likely as participants in the lowest score group to develop high blood pressure. Participants with the highest hostility scores were also 1.84 times as likely to develop high blood pressure as the lowest score group.

White men—but no other group—with the highest competitiveness scores were more likely to develop high blood pressure. Depression and anxiety scores had no consistent effect on risk of developing high blood pressure.

How Does This Affect You?

Since both impatience and hostility in young adulthood were associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure 15 years later, this study supports evidence that some—but not all—type A personality characteristics increase the risk of high blood pressure.

Furthermore, this study suggests impatience and hostility independently increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. In other words, if you exhibit both of these characteristics, your risk for developing high blood pressure is even higher.

If your personality type is characterized by excessive impatience or hostility, it is important to know that your risk of high blood pressure is probably increased. At a minimum, you should be sure to have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis.

While it may not be possible to change your personality, you may be able to reduce its effects on your health by finding alternative ways to deal with your stress. The American Heart Association suggests the following strategies for managing stress:

  • Take 15-20 minutes each day to sit quietly, breathe deeply, and think of a peaceful scene.
  • Learn to accept the things you can’t change. Count to 10 before responding when you feel angry.
  • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol, overeat, or use drugs or caffeine to cope with stress.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Try to avoid people and activities that upset you.
  • Don’t make promises or agree to do things that will add stress to your life.