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The Globe and Mail

Published Wednesday, Jul. 18 2012, 7:07 PM EDT

Women who are in demanding, stressful jobs are much more likely to suffer a heart attack or other cardiovascular problem than their peers who experience less strain at work.

The findings were published Wednesday in a study in the journal PLoS ONE.

Michelle Albert of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and her colleagues followed more than 22,000 women over a 10-year period to assess the relationship between stress and heart problems. Women were asked to rate the level of stress and insecurity they felt in their jobs.

The researchers found that women in “active jobs” (where they have high demands but also a high level of control) and high strain (where they have high demands and little control) are nearly 40 per cent more likely to have a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event compared to women with low job strain.

Dr. Albert said in a press release that “elevated job strain, a form of psychological stress, has long term cardiovascular health effects in women and could suggest the need for health care providers to incorporate assessment of and identification of useful interventions that minimize the effects of job strain.”

The researchers decided to focus their study efforts on women only because, historically, a great deal of the research into heart risk factors focused on men. Although some prior research has focused on the link between job stress and heart health of women, the study authors noted that “it will be important for additional studies to continue to investigate associations” between the two.

It’s important to keep in mind that this study doesn’t prove that stressful jobs actually cause people to have heart attacks. It’s possible that people who are more prone to cardiovascular problems are drawn into demanding positions, or that there are other aspects of their lives that could be putting them at risk of developing heart issues.

But it does make you wonder what are the long-term health consequences of the burning the midnight oil, fretting over a report or constantly running between meetings.


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