Work Stress Linked to More Heart Attacks

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Thank God it’s Friday. A recent review of 13 studies by a group of European researchers links high work stress with an increase in heart attack risk.

The research team examined data from studies of nearly 200,000 people from seven European countries and found that workers with highly demanding jobs and little control over decision-making were 23% more likely to have a heart attack over the 7.5-year study, compared with their peers with less job stress. This association remained unchanged when the study authors factored in socioeconomic status, gender and age.

“Our findings suggest that job strain is associated with a small, but consistent, increased risk of an incident event of cardiovascular heart disease,” the authors write.

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The study didn’t show that job stress caused heart attack, only that there was an association. But if the link were causal, by eliminating job strain, the authors say 3.4% of heart attacks could be prevented. That’s a pretty small figure, though, especially compared with other contributing factors to heart disease like smoking and lack of exercise, which account for 36% and 20% of heart attacks, respectively.


However, in a corresponding comment, Bo Netterstrøm from Bispebjerg Hospital in Copehagen, Denmark, argues that “job strain is a measure of only part of a psychosocially damaging work environment,” and reducing workplace stress will likely have a greater impact than the study authors give credit.

“Exposures such as job insecurity and factors related to social capital and emotions, are likely to be of major importance in the future. The present economic crisis will almost certainly increase this importance,” he writes.

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The study focused on European workers, but there’s no doubt the U.S.’s 8.1% unemployment rate is causing some serious stress among Americans, too — whether or not they’ve got a job. Given that 1 in 3 Americans suffers from heart problems, managing work-related stress is key. Here are some recommendations from the American Heart Association:

  • Practice positive self-talk: Instead of telling yourself, “everything is going wrong,” think, “I can handle things if I take one step at a time.”
  • Identify emergency stress stoppers that work for you: For example, count to 10 before you speak or go for a walk.
  • Find pleasure in simple activities: Try to do at least one thing a day that you enjoy, like listening to music or meeting friends for lunch.
  • Take time to relax daily: Calm tension in your mind and body through yoga or meditation.

The review was published in the journal, Lancet.

MORE: Long Commute? Your Heart and Waistline May Suffer for It