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Heart Disease Health Center

'This Job Is Killing Me'

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Dec. 13, 2000 -- Every weekday, Gilda T. wakes up at 5 a.m. to start getting ready for work. She leaves the house a little after 6 a.m. and doesn't return again until after 8 p.m. Sometimes she is so busy throughout the day that she forgets to eat.

Unfortunately, her salary barely reflects the time and energy she puts into her job as an insurance producer. "Sometimes I get so stressed out at work, I can hardly breathe. It's like my whole chest tightens up," she says. "People are always wanting things from me, and I am constantly having to answer to this person or that person for one thing or another. It can make your head spin."

Sound familiar? For many reasons -- including the booming economy -- many of us work more and harder than ever before to keep up with the Joneses or to make ends meet. That's why most of us can relate to Gilda's plight. And a recent article in the Journal of Cardiovascular Risk reports that work-related stress, including long hours, low reward, a hectic pace, and a lack of social support in the workplace, can actually increase a person's risk of heart disease.

Study author Christopher Tennant of the department of psychological medicine at Sydney University and the Royal North Shore Hospital in St. Leonards, Australia, reviewed several studies on work stress and heart disease published from 1990 to 2000. In one study, bus drivers who worked in high intensity traffic areas were found to be more likely to die from heart disease than those whose routes were less hectic. And in six of nine studies, excessive hours also increased the risk for heart disease. Other factors that were shown to raise risk of heart disease included poor social support, job insecurity, inability to relax after work, and lack of decision-making authority.

"There is a broad range of environmental and job characteristics that have various impacts on mental and physical processes -- some are good and some are not so good," says Peter L. Schnall, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Social Epidemiology and an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, Irvine.

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