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Heart Disease Health Center

Work Stress May Hurt the Heart

Years of Work Stress Could Make Diabetes, Heart Disease More Likely
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 19, 2006 -- Years of constant work stress could take its toll on your heart.

Early warning signs of heart disease and diabetes are more common among people who report chronic work stress, according to a new British study.

The study focuses on work stress and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of abnormalities that can lead to diabetes and heart disease.

"Employees with chronic work stress were more than twice as likely to have the syndrome than those without work stress," the researchers write in BMJ Online First.

About Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome's risk factors include:

  • Abdominal obesity
  • High level of blood fat
  • Low level of "good" high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL)
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated level of blood sugar after fasting (a sign of resistance to insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar).

Want a more specific version of that list?

  • Waist measurement of more than 40 inches in men or 35 in women
  • Triglycerides of 150 or greater
  • HDL of less than 40 in men and less than 50 in women
  • Blood pressure of 130/85 or greater
  • Fasting glucose of 100 or greater

People with metabolic syndrome have three or more of those traits.

Your Job: Stressful or Not?

The researchers -- who included Tarani Chandola, DPhil, a senior lecturer at University College London -- studied about 10,300 government workers in London.

The bureaucrats completed surveys about their work stress and lifestyles. They also got health checks several times over an average of 14 years.

To gauge work stress, participants rated how demanding their job was, how much control they had over their work, and how much support they got from their co-workers.

The researchers didn't check participants' job descriptions or visit their offices to confirm the ratings. Why not? Stress is often in the eye of the beholder. Two people doing the same job in the same setting may view their work stress differently.

Study's Results

Participants with chronic stress were those reporting highly demanding jobs with little control and sparse support more than 75% of the time during the study.

In other words, those workers weren't just feeling the heat temporarily. Instead, they felt constantly under the gun, with no one on their side.

Chronically stressed workers were more likely to develop metabolic syndrome. That didn't change when the researchers considered other health risks -- obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, heavy drinking, and not eating fruits and vegetables.

Some participants didn't finish the study.

The researchers aren't sure if chronically stressed workers are less likely to have healthy lifestyles, or if people with unhealthy habits tend to feel more stressed at work.

Possibly, years of constant work stress chip away at a person's health, eventually creating metabolic syndrome, write Chandola and colleagues. They don't know exactly how that process works.

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