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Job stress raises women's heart attack risk

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A stressful job can have serious consequences for heart health, according to a new study.

U.S. women who rated their job strain as high were 67 percent more likely to have a heart attack, and 38 percent more likely to experience a stroke or high blood pressure, compared with women who said their job strain was low.

"The stress we’re talking about here is stress that exceeds the body’s capacity to manage or adapt appropriately," said study researcher Dr. Michelle Albert, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The researchers said that the study confirmed what others have previously found: stress at work has important implications for health.

However, the new study also showed that having control over one's job made less difference than previous research has suggested.

The findings are published online today (July 18) in the journal PLoS ONE.

A 10-year study of stress

The researchers used data from the Women's Health Study, in which more than 22,000 U.S. female health professionals were tracked over a 10-year period.

Results showed that even women who reported having a high level of control over their jobs still experienced high strain and elevated health risks, the researchers said. Previous findings suggested that having control helps reduce stress more than what was seen in the new results.

Having a lot of control over one's job suggests that someone has reached a certain level of authority, such as a management or executive position, Albert said. The link to health risks seen among women with these jobs may be due to an increased pressure to perform, since there are few women in such positions to begin with, Albert said.

Another surprising finding the researchers made was that job security had little impact on the risks of heart attack or cardiovascular risk, which is contrary to some previous studies, said Rudy Fenwick, a sociology professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, who was not involved in the study.

"It may be that job insecurity has become the norm," Fenwick said, adding that nowadays, people "don’t expect to be employed with the same employer throughout the career."

Overall, Fenwick said the study was thorough and well done, and noted the importance of its large sample size.

The researchers said that many study participants were white, and therefore the results may apply to other groups as well.

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