High Stress Jobs Affect Women's Health

Researchers at Women's Hospital, Boston, Mass., recently released a new study that confirms some disrurbing fears - women who are stressed from high-pressure work situations have a 40% greater risk of cardiovascular risk than women in less stressful jobs.

The research also studied job insecurity and is also associated with higher risk of hypertension (high blood pressure, raised blood cholesterol levels and overweight.)

The women in the study who were categorized as having the highest stress profiles were 40% more likey to be at risk for:

  • Heart attack
  • Ischemic stroke
  • Needing coronary bypass
  • Needing balloon surgery
  • Dying premjaturely

Lead researcher, Natalie Slopen, Sc.D., said” "Women in jobs characterized by high demands and low control, as well as jobs with high demands but a high sense of control are at higher risk for heart disease long term.”

The research team team examined job strain in 17,415 women who took part in the Women's Health Study. They were all healthy individuals at the beginning of the study. The majority of them were Caucasian, health professionals, with an average age of 57 years. The Study had details on their heart disease risk factors, including job strain and job insecurity.For many, stress is just a normal part of a busy work schedule. Even though stress is becoming routine, it is self destructive in numerous ways.

Other studies reveal that stress causes deterioration in everything from your heart to your gums, and can make you more susceptible to everything from a common cold to cancer. One of the main culprits in the stress-illness connection is the hormone cortisol - though it plays a necessary role in helping us cope with acute or short-term threats. When an animal perceives danger, the body triggers a chain reaction of signals to release various hormones, like epinephrine (adrenaline), nor-epinephrine, and cortisol, from the adrenal glands. These hormones boost heart rate, increase respiration and increase the availability of glucose in the blood, thus enabling the "fight or flight" response. Because this response requires a great deal of energy, cortisol tells other taxing physical processes like digestion, reproduction, physical growth, and the immune system - to slow down or shut down altogether.

Problems arise when stresses don't let up or when, for various reasons, the brain continually perceives stress even if it isn't really there. Continued stress can actually bias the brain to perceive more danger by altering brain structures such as those which govern the perception and response to threat.

Prolonged cortisol exposure inhibits the growth of new neurons and can lead to increased growth of the amygdala, the brain region responsible for controlling fear and emotional responses. Too much stress and you begin to forget you're stressed out. When we think of stress, we might typically think of life crises like abuse, illness, divorce, grieving, or losing a job.

However, it is now known that smaller, constant, annoying problems like traffic, workplace politics, noisy neighbors, and long lines also add up and can have a negative impact on our well-being. Stress is directly related to coronary heart disease and, since the 1950's, the direct stress-cardiac link has been well documented by many studies.


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