Work Stress ‘Raises Heart Risk’, New Study Suggests

A new US research shows that having a highly demanding job, but little control over it, could be a fatal combination.

US researchers found that stressful job was linked to a 23% increased risk of heart attacks and cases of coronary heart disease. Photo: Dave 77459/Flickr

Scientists at University College London explained that any job in any sphere could lead to strain, but lower skilled workers are under greater danger.

The results of the study showed that doctors whose job requires a lot of decision-making would be less likely to have job strain than someone working on a busy factory production line.

According to BBC, there has previously been conflicting evidence on the effect of job strain on the employees’ health.

To conduct the research, scientists analyzed 13 existing European studies covering nearly 200,000 people.

“We used individual records from 13 European cohort studies (1985—2006) of men and women without coronary heart disease who were employed at time of baseline assessment,” US researchers said.

At the beginning of each of the studies, interviewees were asked whether they had excessive workloads or insufficient time to do their job. People were also asked a few questions around how much freedom they had to make decisions.

Later two groups were created: people with job strain or not and they were followed for an average of seven and a half years.

One of the researchers, Prof Mika Kivimaki, from University College London, said: “Our findings indicate that job strain is associated with a small but consistent increased risk of experiencing a first coronary heart disease event, such as a heart attack.”

The researchers suggest that eliminating stress at a workplace would prevent 3.4% of those cases, whereas there would be a 36% reduction if everyone stopped smoking.

Prof Kivimaki said the evidence of a direct effect of job strain on the heart was mixed.

He told reporters that job strain was linked to other lifestyle choices that were bad for the heart: “We know smokers with job strain are more likely to smoke a bit more, active people with job strain are more likely to become inactive and there is a link with obesity.”

He went on, adding: “If one has high stress at work you can still reduce risk by keeping a healthy lifestyle.”

Prof Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We know that being under stress at work, and being unable to change the situation, could increase your risk of developing heart disease.”

“This large study confirms this, but also shows that the negative effect of workplace strain is much smaller than, for example, the damage caused by smoking or lack of exercise.”

The expert continued: “Though stresses at work may be unavoidable, how you deal with these pressures is important, and lighting up a cigarette is bad news for your heart. Eating a balanced diet, taking regular exercise and quitting smoking will more than offset any risk associated with your job.”

Dr Bo Netterstrom, from Bispebjerg Hospital in Denmark, said other stresses at work such as job insecurity “are likely to be of major importance”.

He said job strain was “a measure of only part of a psychosocially damaging work environment”.

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