Young adults with two of the three traits that make up a type-A, go-getter's personality are more likely to get high blood pressure later in life, a major new study reports today.
The potentially deadly duo is impatience, unmasked as a risk factor for the first time, and hostility. Each of these traits nearly doubles a person's risk of developing high blood pressure. Researchers have not yet calculated the combined effect of the two traits in the same person.
Striving for achievement -- the third piston that powers classic type-A personality -- apparently doesn't have quite the same worsening effect on blood pressure as the other two, says study leader Lijing Yan of Northwestern University.
An estimated 43 million people in the USA have high blood pressure, and the prevalence rises with age.
Few studies have focused on factors that influence the development of high blood pressure in young adulthood to middle age.
''As we all know, this society is very fast-paced, and that can be detrimental to our health,'' Yan says. ''There are things we can do on a personal level to alleviate that. Try not to internalize time pressure; if you're an impatient person, as I am, try to relax.''
Exercise could be especially helpful, she says. It not only lowers blood pressure and bolsters the heart, but it also reduces stress.
High blood pressure results when arteries lose elasticity and can no longer expand to handle the body's changing demands for blood. Just as the pressure builds behind a crimp in a hose, high blood pressure puts extra stress on blood vessel walls. It also forces the heart to work harder, raising the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke and death.
The findings, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, are the latest from a 15-year, government-financed study. The study focused on 3,308 adults from Birmingham, Ala., Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland. All were 18 to 30 when they enrolled. Researchers controlled for lifestyle and medical factors that could muddy the results.
Other studies have shown that impatient people overreact to stress, at least for short periods. Their hearts work harder, their blood pressure rises, and their blood vessels lose elasticity. But this is the first study to link this response to the development of high blood pressure later in life.
Redford Williams of Duke University and lead author of an accompanying editorial says people who are hostile, impatient or distressed often also eat, drink and smoke excessively, further raising their risk. ''Psychosocial and physical risk factors don't occur separately. They occur together, like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,'' he says.
''We may be able to help people manage their physical risk factors if we help them manage impatience, anger and other negative emotions.''
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