Career Magazine

Stress at Work Could Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease, New Research Shows

Posted on the 14 September 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost

Stressed at work? It could lead to heart disease. Photo Credit: Flickr. Stressed at work? It could lead to heart disease. Photo Credit: Flickr.

The background

A review published in The Lancet medical journal, compiling over 25 years of research, has found a significant link between stressful work environments and heart disease. The study reveals that those who suffer from job-related stress have a 23 percent increased risk of suffering from heart disease, according to a study of almost 200,000 people from seven European countries.

The review

The review takes in to account studies that span over 25 years, including the Whitehall studies of the 1980s, which assessed the health risks associated with the roles of tens of thousands of civil servants in the UK, and research published in 2009 that found those who were treated unfairly at work were more at risk. In total, 13 published and unpublished reports from countries across Europe, including France, Denmark, Sweden and the UK, feature in the review. The authors of the review told The Independent that it has confirmed earlier findings “with greater precision than has previously been possible.”

The findings

The findings show that stress causes increased blood pressure, causing the blood to thicken and clot. This is especially dangerous in arteries already clogged with fatty deposits. Those who are stressed more frequently have less chance of their blood pressure decreasing and are therefore at a higher risk. Critically, The Telegraph noted how researchers at UCL took into account age, sex, health and lifestyle before analysing the risks: “That means among a group of people living healthy lives – eating well, exercising regularly and not smoking – those who had stressful jobs would still be at a relatively higher risk of heart attack.”

The definition of stress

One of the most significant factors of the review is its definition of stress. The research shows that job strain is more likely to be induced by a lack of control, meaning those who are subordinates in their careers, as opposed to CEOs, are at a higher risk. Professor Andrew Steptoe, of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, told The Guardian: “It is the coupling [of high demand and low control] that is problematic. It is more common in low income jobs where people are doing the same thing again and again, such as assembly line work, but it is across the whole social spectrum.” The Independent also noted the findings of the Whitehall report show that “those in low status jobs who were required to follow orders of their bosses were more stressed, and died sooner, than the top executives handing out the orders.”

Less impact than other factors

 Stress may increase your risk of heart disease but doctors insist that it is less affecting than other factors, such as poor diet and smoking. Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), told The Telegraph: “Though stresses at work may be unavoidable, how you deal with these pressures is important. Eating a balanced diet, taking regular exercise and quitting smoking will more than offset any risk associated with your job.” However, The Independent quoted Bo Netterstrom from Bispebjerg Hospital in Copenhagen warning us not to underestimate the impact of work stress: “Job strain is a measure of only part of a psychosocially damaging work environment. This implies that prevention of workplace stress could reduce incidence of coronary heart disease to a greater extent than stated in the author’s interpretation of the calculated risk attributable to job strain.”

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