Job strain takes toll on women

40 per cent increased risk of cardiovascular disease: Study
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/29/2010

Women who say they have high job strain have a 40 per cent increased risk of cardiovascular disease — including heart attacks and procedures to open blocked arteries — compared to those with low job strain, according to research from the United States. (Job strain, a form of psychological stress, is defined as having a demanding job with little to no decision-making authority or opportunities to use one’s creative or individual skills.)

In addition, job insecurity — fear of losing one’s job — was associated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, increased cholesterol and excess body weight, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2010 in November. However, job insecurity is not directly associated with heart attacks, stroke, invasive heart procedures or cardiovascular death.

“There are both immediate and long-term, clinically documented cardiovascular health effects of job strain in women,” said Michelle Albert, the study’s senior author and an associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Your job can positively and negatively affect health, making it important to pay attention to the stresses of your job as part of your total health package.

“From a public health perspective, it’s crucial for employers, potential patients, as well as government and hospital entities to monitor perceived employee job strain and initiate programs to alleviate job strain and, perhaps, positively impact prevention of heart disease.”

Researchers analyzed job strain in 17,415 healthy women who were primarily health professionals, with an average age of 57, who provided information about heart disease risk factors, job strain and job insecurity. They were followed for more than 10 years to track the development of cardiovascular disease.

“This particular longitudinal design helps determine the temporal association between job strain and the development of cardiovascular disease risk factors,” said American Heart Association spokesperson Mercedes Carnethon, who is an associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death with women and this is one potential, additional risk factor.”

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