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High-stress jobs raise younger women’s heart risk

Women under 51 in tougher jobs at higher risk of ischaemic heart disease

OnMedica staff

Thursday, 06 May 2010

High-pressure jobs increase a younger woman’s risk of ischaemic heart disease, a large study has shown. The research, of more than 12,000 nurses in Denmark, is published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The authors say that previous research indicating a link between a demanding job and heart disease risk, has been largely undertaken among men. They set out to assess the impact of work pressure and degree of personal influence in the workplace on the heart health of women.

The research team studied 12,116 nurses, all participants in the Danish Nurse Cohort Study, who were aged 45-64 years when they answered questions in 1993 about their daily work pressures and personal influence. Their health was then tracked for the following 15 years, using hospital records.

By 2008, 580 of the participating nurses had been admitted to hospital with ischaemic heart disease, which included 369 cases of angina and 138 heart attacks.

The nurses’ level of ‘job control’ – having influence on the organisation of their daily work – did not influence their heart disease risk.

Nurses who reported that their work pressures were much too high were 47% more likely to have ischaemic heart disease than those who said their work pressures were manageable and appropriate. After taking account of risk factors for heart disease, such as smoking and lifestyle, the increase in risk fell to 35%, but still remained significant.

Even nurses who indicated that their work pressures were a little too high had a 25% increased risk of ischaemic heart disease.

The amount of physical activity at work had a significant but small impact on risk.

In a separate analysis, the researchers looked at the impact of work pressures on heart disease risk in the same group, but for just five years – up to 1998. Nurses who felt themselves to be moderately pressurised at work were 60% more likely to have ischaemic heart disease than those working under manageable pressure, and those who said they faced excessive pressures at work were almost twice as likely to suffer (97% increase). These increases remained even after taking account of other risk factors including shift work and level of physical activity at work.

When the findings were analysed by age, the significant increase in heart disease risk with higher work pressure was found only among nurses under the age of 51.

The authors conclude: “It seems as if the effect of work pressure has a greater impact on younger nurses. This is in agreement with findings from previous studies looking at age-specific effects in both men and women.

“The lower risk among the older nurses may be due to other risk factors that become relatively more important with increasing age. Furthermore, vulnerable individuals may have [already] left work,” they add.

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