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Job Strain and Heart Disease Risk in Women now Rivals Men

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Job strain is now found to boost heart disease risk for women 40 percent - findings that have previously been found for men. Fear of job loss, insecurity and lack of authority that lead to strain on the job are the main culprits for the increased risk. Stifled creativity and lack of opportunity to use one's skills are a form of psychological strain that researchers say deserves recognition from a public health perspective.

Michelle A. Albert, M.D., M.P.H., the study’s senior author and associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Mass. “Your job can positively and negatively affect health, making it important to pay attention to the stresses of your job as part of your total health package.”

Heart Disease Risks from Job Stress Differ for Women

For men, heart disease risk factors from job stress were measured more stringently. A January news release from the American Heart Association revealed stress on the job raises the chances of heart attack for any employee. Men typically have heart attacks earlier in life, but women are more likely to die. High blood pressure and cholesterol and increased weight was not directly associated with with boosting heart disease risk for women.

For women, job stress increased the chances of heart attacks, ischemic strokes, coronary artery bypass surgery or balloon angioplasty and death by forty percent. The overall risk of heart attack was 88 percent, and the increased chances of needing angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery to treat heart disease were 43 percent and related to psychological stress from "having a demanding job, but little to no decision-making authority or opportunities to use one’s creative or individual skills."

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“Women in jobs characterized by high demands and low control, as well as jobs with high demands but a high sense of control are at higher risk for heart disease long term,” said Natalie Slopen, Sc.D., lead researcher and a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University Center on the Developing Child in Boston.

The adverse effects of job strain on a woman’s heart health are both immediate and long-term. The study followed the effects of stress on the job in 17,415 healthy women for 10 years as part of the Women’s Health Study. The women were primarily health professionals who work in demanding job settings with an average age of 57.

The findings that job stress and strain boosts the chances of heart disease 40 percent for women was concluded from statements like “My job requires working very fast.” “My job requires working very hard.” “I am free from competing demands that others make.”

Albert suggests employers, hospitals and government entities monitor perceived on the job stress “and initiate programs to alleviate job strain and perhaps positively impact prevention of heart disease.” Job strain and risk of heart disease in women now rivals that of men.


Copyright © November 14, 2010
Kathleen Blanchard RN