Personality Type and Heart Disease Risk: Two Have Greater Risk
Researchers have often linked heart disease risk to one of two personality types – Type A or Type B. But there are also two lesser known types, C and D, the latter of which is emerging as a greater risk factor for heart-related problems than Type A’s.
Type A and Type D Personalities At Greater Risk for Heart Disease
The Type A and Type B personality theory was introduced by cardiologists Meyer Friedman and RH Rosenman in the 1950’s to describe a pattern of behaviors thought to be risk factors for coronary heart disease. Type A individuals are impatient (sometimes hostile), highly competitive, controlling, aggressive and have difficulty relaxing. Type B personalities, in contrast, are patient, relaxed and easy going.
Drs. Friedman and Rosenman found, after a nine-year study of healthy men aged 35-59, that Type A personalities have double the risk of coronary heart disease.
Modern day psychologists have added two new personality types to the theory. Type C individuals are perfectionists and take everything seriously. They are consistent and dependable, but emotionally repressed. Type C’s tend to suffer from stress and depression more than any other personality type, and common health-related problems are autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The “D” in Type D stands for distressed. A Type D personality, introduced in the 1990’s, describes a person with negative emotions such as pessimism, anxiety, irritation and depressed mood. As with Type C’s, they tend to be socially inhibited. The latest research finds that these individuals are at greater risk for heart disease and heart-related problems such as heart attack more so than Type A personalities.
Researcher Viola Spek PhD of Tiburg University in the Netherlands and colleagues published their analysis of 49 studies involving over 6,000 people with heart disease in the American Heart Association Journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. They found that Type D personalities had a three-fold higher risk of heart events compared to other personality types.
In addition, Type D’s were three times more likely to develop psychological problems such as clinical depression, anxiety and poor mental health.
The researchers think that cortisol, a hormone released during stress, is responsible for the increased risks. Cortisol in the blood is linked to higher levels of inflammation in the body. Type D personalities may also be at a greater risk because they may be less likely to get regular checkups or communicate well with their doctors. They are also less likely to exercise or comply with treatment programs, says co-author Johan Denollet PhD.
Although it is not likely to change personalities, researchers say the findings can help doctors utilize specific individualized behavioral counseling and other treatment options to improve cardiovascular outcomes.
Denollet J, et al "A general propensity to psychological distress affects cardiovascular outcomes: Evidence from research on the type D (distressed) personality pro