Antagonistic People Have Thicker Carotid Walls, Increased CVD Risk

August 16, 2010

August 16, 2010 (Baltimore, Maryland) — Antagonistic people, particularly those who are competitive and aggressive, could be increasing their risk of MI or stroke, new research indicates [1].

Studying more than 5000 people in Sardinia, Italy, US scientists found that those who scored high for antagonistic traits on a standard personality test had greater thickening of the carotid arteries on ultrasound compared with people who were more agreeable. Intima-media thickness (IMT) of the carotid artery is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular events, say Dr Angelina R Sutin (National Institute on Aging, Baltimore, MD) and colleagues in their paper published online August 16, 2010 in Hypertension.

"We found that although men tended to have thicker arterial walls than women, antagonistic women had [thickness of] arterial walls similar to that of antagonistic men," Sutin told heartwire . "So the association between antagonism and arterial thickness was much stronger for women." And although arterial thickening is a sign of aging, young people with antagonistic traits already had such thickening, even after controlling for confounding factors such as smoking, she said.

She cautions, however, that this was a population-based sample and more research needs to be done in clinical settings. Nevertheless, doctors might want to consider antagonism and other facets of personality traits when assessing an individual's risk, she says. The study results could help determine who might benefit from targeted interventions such as anger management, for example.

Antagonism Results in a Similar Risk to Metabolic Syndrome

Sutin et al explain that a substantial body of literature illustrates how individual differences in antagonism-related traits predict a variety of cardiovascular outcomes, but much of this work has focused on the clinical manifestations of coronary heart disease. Advances in noninvasive technology have now made it possible to assess potential markers of atherosclerosis, a preclinical state of CHD, they note.

They examined the concurrent and prospective associations between six facets of trait antagonism and IMT in 5614 Italians in four villages in Sardinia as part of the Sardinia Study of Aging. Participants' ages ranged from 14 to 94 years (average age 42), and 58% were female. They answered a standard personality questionnaire, which included six components of agreeableness: trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and tender-mindedness.

The researchers also took two measures of IMT, three years apart, to see whether these traits predicted increases in arterial thickening. Participants were also screened for high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, fasting glucose, and diabetes, and the results were adjusted for these parameters.

Those who scored in the bottom 10% of agreeableness and were therefore the most antagonistic had about a 40% increased risk for elevated IMT; the effect on artery walls was thus similar to having metabolic syndrome, say the researchers.

"Determining which personality traits contribute to arterial thickening will help to identify who is most at risk and who would benefit most for targeted interventions," Sutin and colleagues conclude.

The study was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Aging. Coauthor Dr Paul T Costa, Jr (National Institute on Aging) receives royalties from the revised NEO Personality Inventory.