Work Stress Increases Middle-Age Women's Risk of Heart Disease

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • As if there’s not enough going on in middle-age women’s lives what with menopause, life transitions, etc., a new study has found that women who work in demanding jobs and who aren’t give decision-making authority or the opportunity to use their creativity have an increased chance of suffering a heart attack.

    The study asked 22,000 women who, on average, were 57 years of age, about their job strain, job insecurity, personal health and lifestyle information over a 10-year period. These women, most of whom were white health professionals, also described the pace of their workday, the effort they had to make in their job and whether they had to juggle various priorities.

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    The researchers found that after adjusting for age, race and income, women who had highly taxing jobs were 38 percent more likely to suffer a cardiac episode, such as a stroke, heart surgery or death than their counterparts who said they had lower job strain. In addition, heart attack risk was 70 percent higher for these women.


    Women who worked at highly stressful jobs and who had control over much of their work had a 38-percent higher risk of a heart-related event as compared to their counterparts with low-stress jobs. However, while there is an association between work stress and heart attacks, the researchers did not prove a direct cause and effect relationship between career stress and cardiovascular issues.

    "Our study indicates that high job strain can negatively affect your health. There are immediate and definite long-term, clinically documented cardiovascular health effects of job strain in women, and it is important for women and their health care providers to pay attention to the stresses of their job," stated Dr. Michelle Albert, a cardiologist and researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and associate professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

    This news is important because heart disease is the leading cause of death of American women. Approximately 42.7 million women currently live with some form of cardiovascular disease while 7.5 million currently live with coronary heart disease. And surprisingly, more women die of cardiovascular disease each year. That may be because women are less likely than men to receive the proper treatment after suffering a heart attack, according to The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease.

    So just a reminder…the major risk factors for heart disease for women include smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight or obese, and being physically inactive.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also warns that other factors – such as stress and depression, alcohol, birth control pills and sleep apnea – can contribute to heart disease. Hormone therapy while going through menopause also can put women at risk.

    So what should you do if you’re in a high-stress job? Well, in this tough economy, quitting a job – and losing a paycheck – without another one lined up isn’t a good idea. But what IS a good idea is following the Department of Health and Human Services’ action plan to promote heart health. Those steps include:

    • Eating a healthy diet. Your diet should emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk or milk products. Opt for lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. Make sure you select foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and sodium, and added sugars. Also, make sure that you balance the calories you eat with how active you are.
    • Aiming for a healthy weight. Losing weight – especially if you’re overweight or obese – can reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Weight loss also reduces risk factors (such as high blood pressure) that also put you at risk for heart disease and other serious conditions.
    • Exercising.
    • Stop smoking.

    So while this study provides a glimpse at another potentially unhealthy stressor in women’s lives, it’s important for middle-aged women to be proactive. Even if you can’t have control at your work place, remember that you can be proactive in taking control of your health. Make it a priority!

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    Primary Resources for This Sharepost:

    Dallas, M.E. (2012). Stressful jobs linked to heart woes in women. MedLine Plus.

    Slopen, N., Glynn, R.J., Buring, J .E., Lewis, T.T., Williams D. R., & Albert, M. A. (2012). Job strain, job insecurity, and incident cardiovascular disease in the Women’s Health Study: Results rom a 10-year prospective study. PLOS One.

    The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. (2012).  Women and heart disease.

    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2007). The healthy heart handbook for women.

Published On: July 20, 2012