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Women under job stress have cardiovascular risk

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
cardiovasculr disease, job stress, myocardial infarction, MI, stroke, death

The current economic climate has increased the level of stress for many Americans. A significant portion of this stress is work-related. Many individuals deal with increased demands at work and are fearful that if they do not perform well they could lose their job. A new study by researchers at Harvard University and Harvard medical School evaluated the impact of job stress on women’s cardiovascular health. They published their findings online on July 18 in the journal PLosOne.

The researchers noted that research about work-related stressors and cardiovascular disease (has produced contradictory results. In addition, limited data is available regarding the long-term associations between job strain and job insecurity and cardiovascular disease among women. Therefore, they designed a study addressing this issue.

The study group was comprised of 22,086 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Study (average age 57 ± 5 years) who were followed over 10 years in regard to cardiovascular disease. During the 10 years of follow-up there were 170 myocardial infarctions, 163 ischemic strokes, 440 coronary revascularizations, and 52 cardiovascular deaths. The researchers found that in models adjusted for age, race, education, and income, women with high job strain (high demand, low control) were 38% more likely to experience a cardiovascular event than their peers who reported low job strain (low demand, high control). Furthermore, women with active jobs (high demand, high control) were 38% more likely to experience a cardiovascular event relative to women who reported low job strain. Outcome-specific analyses revealed that high job strain predicted non-fatal myocardial infarction and coronary revascularization. No evidence of an association between job insecurity and long-term CVD risk was observed.

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The authors concluded that high strain and active jobs, but not job insecurity, were related to increased cardiovascular risk among women. Both job strain and job insecurity were significantly related to cardiovascular disease risk factors. They added that with the increase of women in the workforce, these data emphasize the importance of addressing job strain in cardiovascular disease prevention efforts among working women.

Take home message:
This study points out that women in high stress jobs who have little control over the demands placed on them in the workplace are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Some women may be able to seek out a less stressful job even if it offers lower pay; however, in these tough economic times, many have little options. Therefore, women with stressful jobs should focus on ways to better cope with stress. A regular exercise program can be helpful in both relieving stress and improving cardiovascular health. Smoking should be avoided and alcohol should be consumed in moderation. A cocktail before dinner can relieve stress; however, the consumption of several cocktails in an attempt to blot out a “bad day at work” is counterproductive. Coffee or tea should only be consumed in moderation. Avoid refined sugar—it results in a brief “sugar high” followed by depression. Regular meditation or yoga can be significant stress releivers.

Reference: PLoSONE

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