High-Pressure Deadlines Up Sudden Heart Attack Risk

If you are scrambling to meet a high-pressure deadline at work, consider this: Sudden, intense deadlines significantly boost your risk of having a heart attack.

Researchers say increased competition and workload, as well as less job security, have increased the importance of the work environment as a source of potentially harmful stress reactions. Studies have shown that stressful events can precede a heart attack.

Scientists reporting in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health evaluated heart disease data from 1,381 participants of the Stockholm Heart Epidemiology Program (SHEEP). All of them had previously suffered one heart attack. The patients were asked about the specific life events preceding their heart attack, both at work and home, and asked to range their significance from “affected me in a very negative way” to “affected me in a very positive way.”

Analysis of the surveys revealed that sudden stress on the job made people six times more likely to suffer a heart attack within the next 24 hours. “Conflict at work” appeared to be a leading risk factor for men. Increased responsibilities on the job, which participants rated “very or fairly negative,” raised the risk of heart attack for both men and women.

Eight percent of those surveyed had experienced intense, job-related stress one day before their heart attack, at a rate much higher than those who faced stressful events unrelated to work.

Severe short-term stress had a larger impact on the heart than a year’s worth of accumulated stress.

“Our conclusion is that work-related life events characterized by high demands, competition, or conflict, have the potential to trigger the onset of myocardial infarction [heart attack],” the researchers from Sweden write in the journal report.

“The results suggest that the induction time is in the range of hours or days rather than weeks.”

Few studies have investigated the link between life events and the onset of a heart attack. This study is the first to establish the link between short-term job stress and one’s risk for heart attack. The authors say more study is needed.

By Kelli Miller Stacy, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: News release, BMJ Specialist Journals. Möller, J. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, January 2005; vol 59: pp 23-30.