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Type D Personalities at Increased Risk of Heart Disease

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Most of us are familiar with Type A personalities - aggressive, driven, blunt, obsessive, and insensitive. Chances are that you’ve worked with a Type A (or been married to one, have one for a family member, etc.) or otherwise interacted with a Type A on at least one occasion during your life. (Heaven forbid you have the misfortune to be a Type A!) With their in-your-face-it's-my-way-or-the-highway approach, Type A's are easy to identify and certainly easy to remember if you’ve crossed swords with one. It’s long been known that their rather unique approach to life puts Type A's at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to heart disease or heart attack, which comes as no surprise to those of us who have to interact with Type A's on a regular basis. What may come as a surprise to many is that the Type D personality is also at risk for heart disease right along with their Type A counterparts.

Type D personality is at risk for heart disease? Since Type A personalities tend to garner all the attention, especially when it comes to discussions of heart disease, a little digging was required to find out what a Type D personality was. When you see Type D, think “worrier” or chronically “negative” (which may explain why Type D is also referred to as the “distressed” personality). If you remember the old Winnie the Pooh stories, then you’re probably familiar with the donkey Eeyore - he’s dismal, gloomy, melancholy, pessimistic, and just a little socially backward (inhibited). For Eeyore, the world is one great big negative woe-is-me kind of place. Eeyore is a classic Type D personality.

Can being a chronically negative Eeyore Type D person really lead to future heart problems? According to Viola Spek, Ph.D., from Tiburg University, Netherlands, the answer is a definite yes. Spek was the lead researcher on a study that examined the results of more than 49 independent studies all of which focused on Type D personalities and either heart or psychological health. In all, the studies included more than 6,000 participants.

Researchers found that rather than risk disapproval from family and peers, Type D's are generally more closed and tend to keep problems and issues to themselves. Closing themselves off can lead to higher levels of negative emotions such as depression and anxiety, as well as increased levels of cortisol (a stress hormone which can lead to high blood pressure and inflammation). Researchers also found that Type D's had a three-fold increased risk for:

• long-term depression and generally poor mental health
• future cardiovascular events, including events such as heart attack, angioplasty, peripheral artery disease (PAD), bypass, transplant and even death

Despite the fact that Type A is the best known of the personalities, Type D's account for 21 percent of the population. This number increases dramatically in persons with known cardiovascular problems with some estimating as many as 53 percent of cardiac patients are Type D.

If you happen to be like Eeyore - a Type D personality - beware! Your worrisome glass-half-empty outlook on life just may worry you into a heart attack or worse!

Mary Kyle is a freelance writer, editor, and project manager. She has a Master of Arts in Legal Studies, a Bachelor of Music, and multiple professional certifications in project management. In addition to health advocacy, she is passionate about literacy and volunteers in local schools teaching writing seminars and reading.

American Heart Association (2010, September 14). Type D personality associated with higher future heart risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 15, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2010/09/100914162301.htm

Journal Reference:
1. Johan Denollet, Angélique A. Schiffer, and Viola Spek. Back A General Propensity to Psychological Distress Affects Cardiovascular Outcomes: Evidence From Research on the Type D (Distressed) Personality Profile. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes, 2010;3:546-557 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.109.934406

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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