Researchers link job strain, hypertension

John Martin; America's Health Network: November 23,1998

If your job constantly keeps you under pressure, researchers now say you're at higher risk for heart disease and hypertension.

Scientists at the Center for Social Epidemiology in Santa Monica, California studied people who work in highly demanding jobs that allow them little latitude for decision-making. They found that those type workers have a higher risk for cardiac disease or high blood pressure than people whose jobs don't include as many demands.

"I think this is a very serious health problem for America," researcher Dr. Peter Schnall tells AHN.COM."Hypertension is the world's number one disease. There are 500 million people with high blood pressure." There are more than 50 million people who have hypertension in the U.S., and another 50 million who are on their way to acquiring the condition, adds Schnall.

In the study, 285 New York City men who worked in a variety of skilled and unskilled jobs were examined. They completed a questionnaire assessing their freedom to make decisions on the job, and the level of time-pressure demands put on them.

The individuals also wore a device that recorded their blood pressures at 15-minute intervals over a 24-hour period. The measurements were conducted again in 195 of those men three years later.

This is another in a series of studies into the link between job strain and hypertension. "(In the latest research), we find that those employees who tell us that they are repeatedly exposed to job strain...have markedly higher systolic and diastolic ambulatory blood pressures when compared to those employees who report no job strain...," says Schnall.

The researchers also discovered that those individuals who maintained a higher blood pressure at work continued to maintain a higher blood pressure at home.

However, the study also found that men who were initially in high-stress jobs, but moved to low-strain positions saw their blood pressure readings fall over time. In fact, their follow-up blood pressure readings were nearly the same as those who had never been employed in high-stress jobs.

"But, even more interesting and exciting is that the higher your level of blood pressure when you entered the study, the greater the fall, whiny went from exposure to non-exposure (to high-stress jobs)," Schnall explains.

The findings in this study present a problem, adds Schnall, because many employers are attempting to maximize productivity in the workplace, and get the most out of working people. But, he says this should be a call to many companies to look at the way they organize the workplace.

"The fact that this may be harmful for many working men, and I presume working women...," Schnall notes, "is, I think, something that people have simply not been aware of."

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