Job Stress May Be Related to Early Atherosclerosis in Men

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Job Stress

Young men with high work demands and a lack of control over their job situation show signs of early atherosclerosis on imaging tests, according to a new study. The same was not true of young women in the study.

The researchers found increased thickness of the lining of the carotid arteries, which supply blood to the head, in men who reported having low job control and high job strain, according to the study in the current issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

"In our study, the effects of job strain on early atherosclerosis were mostly explained by high demands rather than by low control," says lead author Mirka Hintsanen, of the University of Helsinki in Finland.

The study included 478 men and 542 women aged 24 to 39 years from a continuing Finnish cardiovascular risk study. Participants were screened for other cardiovascular risks such as smoking, alcohol use, level of physical activity, body mass index and cholesterol levels. Those risks were taken into account along with job stress factors.

To assess job strain and demands, participants were asked:

  • Do you have to hurry to get your work done?

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  • Does your work have phases that are too difficult?

  • Is your work mentally strenuous?

Other standard questions were used to assess job control.

In atherosclerosis, deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and other substances form plaque in the inner lining of an artery. Over time, plaque can block blood flow or break off, placing individuals at high risk for cardiovascular diseases that cause heart attacks and strokes.

Although a higher percentage of women (35.6 percent) reported high job strain than men (27.4 percent) overall, men who reported high job strain and demand were 29 percent more likely to have increased thickness of the innermost coating of blood vessels.

Hintsanen says that not saddling employees with high workloads while providing ample time for them to perform their duties could reduce work strain. "Developing leadership and organizing work wisely may also promote lower demands," Hintsanen says. "I think it is in the best interest of employers to use this kind of information."

The study was supported by Academy of Finland grants and by Finnish foundations.

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