Study: Type A Personality Doubles Risk of Having a Stroke

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Stress drastically increases likelihood of strokes, as measured through various stress-related behaviors and manifestations in a new study.

3161095736_042f71a9d7_zmain.jpgAmy McTigue/Flickr

PROBLEM: OK: What do bacon cheeseburgers and and chronic stress and romantic rejection have in common? They're all bad for your heart! But can being high-strung also increase your risk of having a stroke?

METHODOLOGY: The stress levels of 150 stroke patients admitted to a hospital in Madrid, along with 300 of their healthy neighbors, were evaluated on several dimensions. Researchers quantified stress levels in terms of stressful life experiences the subjects had undergone in the past year, psychological symptoms like distress, anxiety, and depression, general mental and physical health, and behavior typical of type-A personalities, such as hostility, aggression, and impatience. The subjects also reported on various lifestyle factors such as caffeine and alcohol consumption, smoking, and whether they were employed or in a relationship. The researchers controlled for biological risk factors and, by using subjects from the same census district, hoped to limit confounding social and environmental factors.

RESULTS: Aside from general health, signs of depression, and employment status, one's likelihood of having a stroke increased significantly in the presence of multiple independent factors.

The risk of having a stroke more than doubled if the subject:

  • Exhibited behaviors typical of a type A personality
  • Had a history of smoking
  • Drank two or more energy drinks per day

It more than tripled if the subject:

  • Was sleepy during the day, indicating poor nighttime sleep quality
  • Had heart rhythm disturbances

It quadrupled if the subject:

  • Lived under stressful conditions in the previous year

And the risk of stroke increased nine-fold if the subject:

  • Was male

CONCLUSION: Looked at as a whole, the results indicated a clear association between stress and stroke risk. The correlation is entirely independent of other known risk factors, meaning it holds even if you don't have high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, alcoholism, or testicles.

The full study, "Is psycho-physical stress a risk factor for stroke? A case-control study," is published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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