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Stress on the Job Raises the Risk of Heart Disease in Women

Job strain increases risk of heart attack

En español | In a powerful indictment of the stress and uncertainty of the modern workplace, a new study presented today at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in Chicago finds that women who feel the strain of working in high-pressure jobs have, overall, a 40 percent higher risk of heart disease — including an 88 percent higher risk of heart attacks than their less-stressed female colleagues. They also are more likely to need invasive heart procedures. The groundbreaking study followed 17,000 healthy women — with an average age of 57 — for 10 years.

Experts looking at the study say working women now appear to suffer the same kinds of increased cardiac risks that working men suffer and may soon even surpass men in this risk category.

Previously, most research on job stress and heart disease focused on men, says Michelle Albert, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital. But Albert, the senior author of the new study from Harvard University, points out that "women make up half of the workforce in this country," so the impact of job stress on their health is "an important issue for employers as well as employees."

The study comes at a time when the fragility of the economy is threatening the job security of many Americans, who are increasingly anxious and fearful about their job futures. And as the economy has contracted and companies have laid off employees, in many cases fewer workers carry the same workload so they're putting in longer hours, feeling more stress.

Job strain, experts say, can hit not only the executive in a big corporation but also the owner of a mom-and-pop store, or the secretary in a busy office.

Job strain is a form of psychological stress that involves having a demanding job but no power to make decisions or exercise creativity, and previous studies have found that combination of restraints increases blood pressure and the likelihood of heart disease. This study finds women are similar to men when it comes to stress at work and are suffering the same cardiac consequences, according to experts in stress and heart disease.

In fact, experts say that because of the nature of their lives today, women may very well suffer from more job strain than most men.

The Harvard researchers conducting the latest study looked at what effect job strain and job insecurity had on the female heart, year after year. The women involved were health professionals taking part in the Women's Health Study, a large, federally funded, long-term research project. Researchers asked the women to evaluate statements from a standard psychological questionnaire including: "My job requires working very fast," "My job requires a great deal of skill," and "I have a lot to say about what happens on my job." Researchers then tracked the development of heart disease in the women for 10 years.

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