Work Stress Linked To Coronary Heart Disease

A British study has found that stressed workers are significantly more likely to develop coronary heart disease.

The research, conducted at the University College London (UCL), was published in January in the European Heart Journal. The study suggested that stressed workers may be up to 68 percent more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease than other workers. The research was conducted using data from the Whitehall II study which began in 1985 and involves more than 10,000 workers from London, England.

The association between stress and coronary heart disease affected both men and women in a similar way. The relationship between the two was strongest among those aged under 50 and weakest amongst those who had reached retirement age.

The study found a direct link between the autonomic nervous system (which controls involuntary actions such as heart beat) and work stress. Stress responses can affect the signals to the heart via the vagus nerve leading to cardiac instability.

One of the papers authors, Dr Tarani Chandola who is a senior lecturer at UCL said “Stress at work is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease but the mechanisms underlying this association have remained unclear until now.”

Chronic stress is also believed to increase levels of Cortisol, the “stress” hormone. Cortisol leads to an increase in blood pressure and blood sugar levels, both high blood sugar and blood pressure increase the risk of heart disease.

Researchers also found a link between worker stress and poor health choices such as a diet poor in nutrients, lack of exercise, smoking, and alcoholism. the researchers determined that around 32% of the total effect of work stress on heart disease could be attributed to these unhealthy behaviors.

Workers are much more likely to feel stressed at work compared to workers 50 years ago due to the increasing number of hours spent at work by most people. One study found as many as 96 percent of men feel work related stress. The most common sources of job stress are thought to be: the pressure of having to be the main bread winner, job dissatisfaction, and a perception of a lack of recognition of work achievements from superiors.

Source: “Work stress and coronary heart disease: what are the mechanisms?” – European Heart Journal (EHJ), January 2008