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Work stress and social strain raise risk of heart disease in women

Work stress and social strain put women at significantly greater risk of developing coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, according to a new study from Drexel University

The research suggests that the stress of work demands, when compounded by social pressure, is associated with a 21 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease among women.

Specific high-stress life events were independently linked to greater heart disease risk, including the death of a spouse, divorce, social strain, and verbal or physical abuse.

The research was focused on data from 80,825 postmenopausal women who were included in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, which tracked participants from 1991 to 2015. The goal of the study was to find better methods of preventing cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis in women. 

For the current study, the Drexel team evaluated the effects of stress from job strain, difficult life events, social strain, and the associations among these forms of stress as contributors to coronary heart disease.

During the study period, nearly five percent of the women developed coronary heart disease. The combination of work stress and social strain was found to induce the greatest risk.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted ongoing stresses for women in balancing paid work and social stressors. We know from other studies that work strain may play a role in developing CHD, but now we can better pinpoint the combined impact of stress at work and at home on these poor health outcomes,” said study senior author Professor Yvonne Michael. 

“My hope is that these findings are a call for better methods of monitoring stress in the workplace and remind us of the dual-burden working women face as a result of their unpaid work as caregivers at home.”

The study authors noted that future studies should look at the effects of shift work on coronary heart disease and explore the effects of job demands according to gender.

“Our findings are a critical reminder to women, and those who care about them, that the threat of stress to human health should not go ignored,” said study lead author Dr. Conglong Wang. “This is particularly pertinent during the stressors caused by a pandemic.”

The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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