Researchers Investigate Link Between Work-Related Stress and Heart Disease
> 1/23/2008 12:56:45 PM

Work-related stress can contribute to heart disease, and the first large-scale study of this connection provides further evidence of the detrimental impact of stress on health. Published in this month's issue of the European Heart Journal, this British study has identified some of the mechanisms by which work-related stress may lead to coronary heart disease.

The study utilized data from the Whitehall study, which has followed 10,308 British civil servants since 1985. The subjects were asked periodically about the amount of stress they experienced at work, and the researchers also monitored the incidence of coronary heart disease and risk factors for heart disease among the subjects. Among men and women under 50, those who reported experiencing work-related stress were an average of 68% more likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who reported feeling no work-related stress. Men and women over 50 had a lower risk, and the researchers believe this may be because they were closer to retirement and experienced less work-related stress.

Lifestyle may be one reason why stressed workers are more likely to develop coronary heart disease, as these workers may adopt an unhealthy diet, smoke, drink, or become mostly physically inactive. However, the results of this study also reveal some of the biological mechanisms that may elevate an individual's risk. The researchers found that stressed workers experienced greater-than-average levels of cortisol, a hormone released by the body during times of stress. Additionally, workers who experienced the most amount of stress were more likely to have fewer variations in heart rate, which can indicate poor autonomic functioning in the heart. Even when controlling for lifestyle, the researchers found an association between work-related stress and these biological factors.

Because the study's participants were British office workers, future studies on this subject should focus on workers from different fields. With continued research, we may be better able to help workers reduce the stress in their lives and also improve their overall health. It's important that we recognize the dangers of work-related stress and ensure that workers get the help they need to cope with the problems they face every day.

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