Irritable heart attack victims more likely to die from second attack, study finds

Being sarcastic and irritable makes heart attack victims more likely to die from a second attack, a new study has found.

Patients who had suffered heart attacks were assessed by a team of scientists for two years for secondary heart attacks or death. 

The study of more than 2,000 patients, two thirds of whom were male, with an average age of 67, were also measured for their level of hostility, a personality trait which includes being sarcastic, cynical, resentful, impatient or irritable, the researchers said.  

The state of a person’s personality traits were assessed using a Multiple Adjective Affective Checklist (MAACL) to generate a hostility score.

The MAACL consisted of 132 positive and negative adjectives, which volunteers were asked to select to describe how they felt over the previous week.

The choice of negative adjectives were summed and positive adjectives subtracted to calculate scores, and therefore, the higher the score the greater the level of hostility. 

More than half of the patients (57 per cent) were scored as hostile, according to the study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.

Those who scored more highly for hostility had a 52 per cent higher death rates over the period than those with more positive traits. 

A high hostility score was still an independent predictor of death even after adjusting for other factors that could affect this relationship including; sex, age, education, marital status, diabetes, high blood pressure, and smoking. 

“Hostility is a personality trait that includes being sarcastic, cynical, resentful, impatient or irritable,” said study author Dr. Tracey Vitori of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, US. 

“It’s not just a one-off occurrence but characterises how a person interacts with people. We know that taking control of lifestyle habits improves the outlook for heart attack patients and our study suggests that improving hostile behaviours could also be a positive move.”

The researchers added that the study could not help to predict recurrent heart attacks, but could influence patients to change their behaviours to lower their risk of premature death.

Dr. Vitori added: “There is much cardiac patients can do to take control of their own health. 

“From a physical side – smoking cessation, increase physical activity, and eat a balanced diet. Our study also indicates that managing hostile behaviours could be important.”

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