WOMEN'S HEALTH
December 11, 2010

Women, Work, and Heart Disease

No surprise: women facing job stress have a greatly increased risk of heart disease. But what to do?

Recent research has confirmed what workers everywhere know: a bad job really is a killer.

The study found that women who report high job strain have a 40% increased risk of heart disease, which includes an 88% increased risk of suffering a heart attack. Job strain is defined as having a demanding job, but little to no decision-making authority or opportunities to use one’s creative or individual skills.

Job insecurity was associated with an increase in factors that can lead to heart disease — high blood pressure, increased cholesterol and excess body weight.

Sound familiar?

As if that's not bad enough, the study also found that job insecurity — fear of losing one's job — also increased risk factors for heart disease. Like a bald head, a bad job is something no one seems to want but can't afford to lose.

Researchers looked at 17,415 (formerly) healthy women who participated in the Women's Health Study. The women were mostly Caucasian health professionals, average age 57, who were tracked for 10 years. Job strain and insecurity were assessed through rating statements from standard questionnaires, such as "my job requires working very fast" and "I am free from competing demands that others make."

Women who reported high job strain had a 40% higher risk of contracting heart disease over the 10 years. This includes heart attacks, ischemic strokes, coronary artery bypass surgery or balloon angioplasty and death.

Similar results have been found in previous job strain studies of men.

Job insecurity was associated with an increase in factors that can lead to heart disease — high blood pressure, increased cholesterol and excess body weight. However, it was not found to be associated with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke or death.

The study's senior author recommends that "women with high job strain enhance physical activity, develop good coping mechanisms, engage in active social support, and limit intrusion of work life into social life. In addition, practicing clinicians should question patients about stress levels when evaluating their overall health."

Basically, the best way to combat the stress is to find a way to de-stress.

It might be helpful to realize that a horrible job isn't always forever. Jo (J.K.) Rowling suffered through years of boring secretarial work before becoming the creator of Harry Potter. Paul Gauguin was also an office drudge, arranging the paperwork for stock transactions well into his 30s, before devoting his life to painting. And someone had to be the first to realize that millions of dollars could be made selling people bottled water, a substance they could drink their fill of from the taps for free.

Better times may lie ahead.

The study results were presented at the American Heart Association's 2010 Scientific Sessions on November 15, 2010 (abstract 18520). The sessions were held November 13-17 in Chicago.

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