Study: Aggression, impatience linked to high blood pressure

Andy Nelson

The next time you’re in a heated argument with that friend who just won’t let up, try this tactic to convince the aggressor to give up the fight: “Think about your health.”

No you’re not threatening to send your friend to the emergency room. But you might bring up a new study from Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine that suggests that aggression and impatience can lead to high blood pressure.

The results of the 15-year study were published in last week’s Journal of the American Medical Association in a paper by Lijing L. Yan, a Feinberg professor of preventative medicine. Yan said that although further research is needed, this data suggests that a Type A personality is an independent risk factor for hypertension.

The study recruited more than 3,300 young adults in 1985 and 1986 to participate in the study. The group submitted to regular blood pressure tests through 2001. They also took a personality test to measure their impatience and aggression.

Over 15 years, 15 percent of the group developed high blood pressure. But those who reported the highest levels of impatience and aggression were 1.8 times more likely to develop high blood pressure than those with the lowest levels, regardless of sex or race.

Yan said more studies are needed before the link between aggression and blood pressure can be firmly established. Future studies could focus on a different group, such as the elderly, or investigate how aggressive tendencies are related to cardiovascular diseases in general.

If research backs up the connection, Yan said, a quick personality test could one day be incorporated into patients’ regular check-ups. The challenge would be to develop a short, reliable test.

Emanuel Maidenberg, a clinical psychologist with the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, said he was not surprised by the study’s findings.

“It’s consistent with some of the previous knowledge and data that we have on what’s generally referred to as Type A personality,” he said. “It also in some ways matches clinical impressions I have of people.”

Doctors already know that aggressive tendencies can threaten interpersonal relationships and quality of life in general, Maidenberg said. Bottling up emotions also can be harmful, but he said it has not been directly linked to health problems.

Whether hostility can be proven as a health risk or not, there are a number of steps people can take if their blood starts boiling. Yan said the most important thing is to identify aggression at its roots.

“If you’re feeling hostile toward people around you, slow down and be aware of that,” she said. “Awareness is key.”

Yan also said exercise is a good way to reduce stress.

People with Type A personalities can learn to curb their aggression through practice, Maidenberg said. Learning techniques like slow breathing and muscle relaxation can prepare people for situations where they might otherwise blow up.

Yan said that as a result of her research on stress and anxiety, she has learned to apply such techniques in her own life.

“It does affect how I behave every day, ” she said.