Job Stress Takes Toll on the Heart

Heart Disease May Be 68% More Likely in Chronically Stressed Workers, Study Shows

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 24, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 24, 2008 -- Chronic job stress may be bad news for your heart, especially if your lifestyle isn't healthy.

So says a 12-year study of more than 10,000 British government workers in white-collar jobs.

The bottom line: Workers were 68% more likely to die of heart disease, suffer a nonfatal heart attack, or develop angina (chest pain) if they had long-term job stress.

Part of the problem was that stressed-out workers tended to have unhealthy diets and weren't physically active. So lifestyle was a ripe area for improvement.

University College London's Tarani Chandola, DPhil, and colleagues report their findings online in the European Heart Journal.

Studying Stress at Work

The workers, most of whom were men, were 35-55 years old when the study started. They got checkups and reported their drinking, smoking, diet, and physical activity. They also rated their job stress twice during the study.

Stressful jobs had lots of pressure and little control. Some also included social stress from bad bosses and unsupportive co-workers.

Chandola's team tracked new cases of heart disease -- based on heart disease deaths, nonfatal heart attacks, and angina (heart-related chest pain) -- among the workers for 12 years.

Those problems were associated with job stress, especially in younger workers who were in their late 30s or 40s when the study began.

Young workers who reported work stress twice during the study were 68% more likely to develop heart disease than those who never reported work stress.

The same wasn't true for older workers, perhaps because they retired during the study and no longer had any work stress.

Lifestyle Upgrade

Stressed workers tended to have less-healthy lifestyles; for instance, they had poor diets and got little physical activity.

But work stress hampered heart health above and beyond lifestyle, the study shows. Stress is known to affect the body physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Metabolic syndrome -- a cluster of health problems that makes heart disease and diabetes more likely -- was also associated with work stress, as Chandola's team also reported in 2006.

Chandola's team didn't assign anyone to exercise, change their diet, meditate, learn stress management techniques, or make their job better. But those strategies help in dealing with job stress.