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Rediff.com  » Getahead » How losing your temper can lead to a heart attack

How losing your temper can lead to a heart attack

June 28, 2010 14:18 IST

Do you blow your fuse at the drop of a hat? Beware, because the more anger you experience, the worse the consequences when it comes to heart health.

Nirav, a 31-year-old senior manager with a reputed company, absolutely hates queuing up for movie tickets. At work, when his laptop takes a few more seconds to load a web page, Nirav clenches his fists and grinds his teeth, wishing he could bang his laptop against the wall. Driving too, is a nightmare for him as he curses other motorists liberally.

Nirav has what is known as the classic Type A personality pattern.

If we are to go by years of medical research, he is likely headed for some form of heart disease before the age of 40.

What is Type A behaviour?

Type A behaviours were first labelled in 1959 by two cardiologists, Dr Friedman and Dr Rosenman. After studying several cardiac patients, their findings led them to suggest a personality pattern that they later labelled 'Type A behaviours' (TAB). This personality displays high levels of agitation, an excessively competitive drive, impatience, time urgency and even hostility.

The Type A person is usually task-obsessed -- the typical workaholic who has a real need to beat the competition and get ahead. Just like Nirav, most Type As show single-minded attention towards their work, which costs them relationships and leads to loneliness.

Type As are also the ones with the proverbial short fuse, who tend to erupt at the slightest of reasons such as waiting to be served at restaurants or delays in meetings. They have also been labelled 'stress junkies' who feel compelled to do several things at once. Nirav eats his breakfast while writing out cheques and dialing a phone, all in the name of effective multitasking!

Nirav also shows typical physical signs which Dr Friedman lists:

  • Excessive perspiration on the forehead and the upper lip
  • Teeth grinding
  • Indentation of the tongue due to constant pressure against the top incisor teeth
  • Dark circles under the eyes

Type A link to heart disease

The Type A behaviour would have remained classified as just a personality pattern, but the initial link to heart disease observed by the two cardiologists was confirmed in later studies.

In the '70s, Framingham heart studies found that TAB characteristics were a strong predictor of some form of heart trouble. It could lead to Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) that could eventually result in severe chest pains and in worst case scenarios, to heart attacks.

After revealing possibilities in the mind-body link, the TAB-CHD studies have also been severely criticised. Researchers have found no indication or weak links suggesting that Type A behaviours signal future heart troubles.

Despite the whole plethora of censure over the TAB-CHD link, even the worst critic would not argue the fact that being tense, overly excitable and constantly angry sends out huge distress signals to the body. Contemporary research indicates that of all the Type A behaviours, hostility and aggression are the most significant risk factors that could lead to heart trouble later.

Physiologically, anger leads to:

  • A constriction of blood vessels, leading to a surge in blood pressure.
  • An escalation in the speed of one's heart rate, due to the secretion of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
  • The release of cholesterol and catecholamines into the blood. Enhanced cholesterol levels aid in the deposit of fatty plaque in the heart and carotid arteries.

While this is the reaction of the body to protect itself in times of emergency and trauma, repeatedly losing your cool can lead to the damage of artery walls through these physiological reactions.

Several studies have determined that people who tend to fly into rages more often are more likely to suffer from a heart attack or heart disease -- in some cases, carrying three times the risk -- as compared to those of a more placid disposition.

Other chronic negative emotions such as stress and depression also have a similar outcome to aggression and anger.

What the Type A club can do

Interestingly, in contrast to the Type A characteristics, a spectrum of Type B traits was discovered, which described the slow, easy going, patient and trusting person. Type Bs are friendly, accepting, generally content and at peace with themselves and others. They are flexible, good team members and do things at a more moderate, relaxed pace.

If you think you may be Type A, one of the things to do is to start developing more Type B characteristics. Stress management programmes usually give the Type A person some tough things to do, such as sitting alone at the beach for an hour, leaving their watch/mobile at home for a day, standing in the longest line at the grocery checkout or taking an entire working day off to spend with a family member.

Whether or not being the Type A is a predictor of heart trouble, adopting a more relaxed, focused and balanced lifestyle can only have positive benefits.


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