How Work Stress Could Harm Your Health

Stroke risk was raised in workers with high-stress jobs

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Is work stress putting you at risk of having a meltdown? It may be putting your health at risk, too.

A new study found that workers who have high-stress jobs may have a higher risk of stroke than those with low-stress jobs.

"Having a lot of job stress has been linked to heart disease, but studies on job stress and stroke have shown inconsistent results," said lead study author Dingli Xu, MD, of Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, in a press release. "It's possible that high-stress jobs lead to more unhealthy behaviors, such as poor eating habits, smoking and a lack of exercise."

Angelos Halaris, MD, PhD, medical director of adult psychiatry at Loyola University Medical Center, told RxWiki News that stress is a major factor in overall health.

"Stress, especially if it is prolonged and feels inescapable to the person, can lead to heart and blood vessel disease which may eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke," Dr. Halaris said. "Stress has also been shown to cause depression. Depression can, as most any physical illness, then cause more stress to the individual, especially if the depression goes undiagnosed or untreated. One of the ways stress can cause physical and mental illness is through the activation of the immune system, which responds with inflammation in the brain and the cardiovascular system. When inflammation persists, it can cause a lot of damage to most all organs of the body."

But there are ways to fight job stress, Dr. Halaris said.

"Consider the option of changing the job that causes you stress and look for something that is less stressful — maybe even consider a career change," he said. "If neither of these two options are viable alternatives, then get serious about starting to: exercise regularly; do not take your work home with you; seek effective distractions by engaging in activity or activities that you can derive pleasure from, such as reading a book, meeting with friends, going for walks or pursuing a hobby. You can also learn how to practice relaxation exercises, meditation and/or joining a yoga class. Above all do not use alcoholic beverages or smoke (cigarettes or pot) in an effort to relax."

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked, which keeps the brain from getting oxygen. Obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and heavy drinking are all risk factors for stroke.

Dr. Xu and team looked at six past studies on job stress and stroke risk. In total, these researchers studied 138,782 patients. Follow-up times ranged from three to 17 years.

These researchers split jobs into four types: passive, low-stress, high-stress and active. Passive jobs were not demanding and gave workers little control. Low-stress jobs had low demand and high control. High-stress occupations had high demand and low control. Active jobs had high demand and high control.

Compared to those with low-stress jobs, high-stress workers were 22 percent more likely to have a stroke. For women, this risk was even higher — at 33 percent.

Passive and active workers didn't appear to have an increased stroke risk, Dr. Xu and team found.

Jennifer J. Majersik, MD, MS, of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, wrote an editorial about this study, in which she called for measures to lower stress among workers.

"Although there have been almost no trials of reducing job strain, it is plain that organizations can increase employee decision-making control through multilevel engagement, including team-based approaches, and by embracing flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting," Dr. Majersik wrote. "Perhaps in the future, stroke prevention trials will include job strain not only as a risk factor but even as a modifiable risk ready for intervention."

Dr. Xu and colleagues only measured stress in study patients once and did not fully account for other factors that can affect stroke risk, such as high blood pressure.

The study and editorial were published Oct. 14 in the journal Neurology.

Dr. Xu and team disclosed no study funding sources. Some study authors disclosed funds from the National Natural Science Foundation of China and various organizations in Guangdong Province.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 14, 2015
Last Updated:
October 19, 2015