Having A High-Stress Job Can Increase Your Chance Of A Stroke, Especially If You're A Woman: Study

Work stress
A high-stress job can up your chance of stroke. Alan Cleaver CC BY 2.0

There are a lot of things that can stress us out at work — the commute, the benefits package, a tough boss, for example. This stress can build up over time, eventually increasing risk of a range of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, asthma attacks, and even shingles. Not to stress you out even more, but a recent meta-analysis has found that a new condition to add to that list: stroke.

The meta-analysis, published in Neurology, was completed by Dr. Dingli Xu, of Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China. Looking at six studies involving 138,782 participants over a span of three to 17 years, Xu found that having a high-stress job could increase the number of risk factors associated with stroke.

"Having a lot of job stress has been linked to heart disease, but studies on job stress and stroke have shown inconsistent results," Xu said in a press release. "It's possible that high stress jobs lead to more unhealthy behaviors, such as poor eating habits, smoking, and a lack of exercise."

To find out which jobs should be labeled as high stress, Xu split them up into four categories: passive, low stress, high stress, and active. Xu categorized them depending on how much control a person had over their occupation, how hard they worked, and the physical demands of the job, such as time pressure, mental load, and coordination burdens. The physical labor and number of hours people worked were not factored into these categories.

Xu labeled passive jobs as those that people had little control over and required little effort, like janitors, miners, and other manual labor occupations. Low-stress jobs were those with high control and low effort, such as natural scientists and architects. High-stress jobs, meanwhile, included nurses and waitresses due to the high level of effort and low levels of control these jobs involved. Lastly, active jobs were the most stressful, as they required more effort but also gave workers higher levels of control. These workers were likely to be teachers, doctors, and engineers.

Out of the 138,782 participants, 11 to 27 percent had high-stress jobs. Overall, these workers had a 22 percent higher risk of stroke than those with low-stress jobs, and a 58 percent higher risk of ischemic stroke — the most common type of stroke, caused by the blockage of blood flow. What’s more, women in high-stress jobs were more likely than men to experience stroke (6.5 percent vs. 4.4 percent), and were 33 percent more likely to have a stroke than women in low-stress jobs. Active and passive workers, on the other hand, saw no increased risk of stroke at all, according to the study.

Nearly 44 percent of Americans say that they’re more stressed today than they were five years ago. This stress can cause overeating, doctor visits, and loss of sleep. To combat the stress that’s killing you, consider exercising more, getting more sleep, going outside, and, most importantly, learning to manage your time. Following these steps will help you relax when you get stressed at work.

Source: Xu, D. Can work stress be linked to stroke? Neurology. 2015.