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May 10, 2010

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Workplace stress raises heart-disease risk in female nurses

Women under the age of 50 who experience high pressure at work have a significantly increased risk of developing heart disease, a Danish study suggests.

The study of more than 12,000 female nurses, aged between 45 and 64, investigated the link between ischaemic heart disease (IHD) and work pressure and job influence. The women’s health was tracked over a 15-year period, from 1993 to 2008.

About 60 per cent of the nurses reported work pressure to be much too high, or a little too high. The former, when compared to those reporting an acceptable work pressure, had a 47-per-cent increased risk of developing heart disease. Those who reported work pressure to be a little too high had an increased risk of approximately 25 per cent.

The increased risk for both groups reduced to 35 and 24 per cent, respectively, when other risk factors, such as smoking and alcohol consumption, were considered. No significant increased risk of heart disease was found in nurses who reported having minor, or no influence on the organisation of their daily work.

According to the researchers, “the association between work pressure and IHD was strongest and only significant among the younger nurses (those aged under 51)”. They concluded: “The lower risk among the older nurses may be due to other risk factors, which become relatively more important with increasing age. Furthermore, vulnerable individuals may have left work.”

The link between pressure at work and heart disease is also evident in other recent research. In 2006, a Danish cohort study of men found a consistent association between psychological job demands and the risk of IHD, and in the Whitehall II study of British civil servants, high job demands increased the risk of coronary heart disease in both men and women.

Commenting on the Danish researchers’ findings, June Davison, a cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Feeling under pressure at work means stressed employees may pick up some unhealthy bad habits and add to their risk of developing heart problems. Pressurised workers may reach for cigarettes, snack foods, and alcohol to make themselves feel better.

“If you feel under pressure you should try to tackle it in a positive way and get active during work hours. Using the stairs and walking some of the way to work could help act as a stress-buster and boost heart health, too.”

The study was published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.

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