High blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke, and adding a tense personality to the mix might raise the risk even further, according to Swedish researchers. In a study that measured the ability of men with high blood pressure to keep their cool during a stressful test, those who lost it were found to have a threefold greater risk of having a stroke. Unlike their calmer counterparts, these men became increasingly frustrated as they wended their way through the mental task.
Researchers speculate that this inability to adapt to a stressful situation signals a personality trait that may be an independent risk factor for stroke. Lena Andre-Petersson of Lund University and her colleagues report the findings in the August issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association (news – web sites).
In the study, 238 elderly men with high blood pressure took a test designed to gauge how well they adapt to a challenge. The test presented them with the words “red,” “green,” “blue,” and “yellow” printed on cardboard. Each word was printed in a color that did not match what the word denotes. The men had to name the color of the print, while ignoring the word, as quickly as possible.
The investigators found that over an average of 10 years, the men who had become increasingly flustered during the test were more likely than their steadier counterparts to suffer a stroke.
“The way in which a stressful situation is managed can be associated with the incidence of stroke,” Andre-Petersson’s team concludes.
The idea that personality traits affect stroke risk is not new. Hostility, difficulty in coping with stress and tense ”type A” personalities have all been linked to stroke, the report indicates.
And while high blood pressure is a key sign that someone is in danger of having a stroke, many people with the condition do not suffer a stroke. So several other factors are certainly at play, the Swedish researchers note.
In this study, men with high blood pressure who showed ”cumulative-dissociative” patterns during the test were three times more likely than others to have a stroke. These men gradually lost control during the test, as they kept trying and failing to find new strategies to work through the task.
The authors speculate that by virtue of their personalities, these men expose their bodies to greater “wear and tear” over a lifetime. The cardiovascular system’s reaction to stress has been shown to influence the development of artery disease and other factors that affect stroke risk, they note.
A leading cause of death and disability in the US, strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is obstructed by an artery blockage or when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. Besides high blood pressure, major risk factors for stroke include heart disease, diabetes and smoking.