Stress at work could be affecting your heart health.

Bosses of the world, take heed. If you’re pressuring your employees to perform, you might be doing a lot more than just stressing them out.

New research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) suggests that women with high job strain (high demands and low control) and active job strain (high demands and high control) are much more likely to experience a cardiovascular-related event than women with low job strain. To determine who has high job strain –defined as having a demanding job that provides limited opportunity for decision making or using your creative or individual skills – researchers analyzed self-reported data from some 22,000 women who participated in the landmark Women’s Health Study.

They found that women with high or active job strain were 38 percent more likely to experience a cardiovascular-related event (condition or invasive procedure), including heart attack, stroke, coronary artery bypass graft, coronary angioplasty, and cardiovascular death. Perhaps most notable among these risks is that a woman with high job strain is 70 percent more likely to have a heart attack. Even women who have a relatively high level of control at their workplace – physicians, executives, nurses, teachers, and managers – were found to be at greater risk for a cardiovascular event because of the intense demands of their jobs.

“Previous long term studies of job strain and heart disease risk have mainly focused on men and a more restricted set of cardiovascular conditions, such as stroke or coronary heart disease ” says Dr. Michelle A. Albert, a cardiologist and researcher at BWH and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. “Our study, however, indicates that job strain also can negatively affect women’s health. It can have both immediate and long-term cardiovascular health effects, so it’s important for women and their health care providers to pay attention to the stresses of their job. Moreover, a majority of the association between high or active job strain and cardiovascular events was not explained by traditional risk factors for heart disease, including depression or anxiety.”

The study also took a look at the effect of job insecurity. And although a fear of losing their job was found to be associated with certain risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, it, unlike job strain, was not shown to be a direct cause of heart attacks, stroke, invasive heart procedures, or cardiovascular death.

Dr. Albert believes that essentially everyone should be concerned about the impact of job strain. “From a public health perspective, it is crucial for employers, as well as government and hospital entities, to monitor perceived employee job strain and initiate strategies to manage job strain,” says Albert. “Their collective intervention could ultimately lower our society’s levels of heart disease and increase employee productivity.”

– Chris P/Lori S

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