Can job stress increase your stroke risk?

By: Lynn Hutley, Coordinator of Public Affairs and Marketing

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Individuals in jobs that are categorized as high stress have a 22 percent higher risk of stroke than those with low stress jobs, according to a recent analysis of studies on the association between job strain and stroke risk.

High stress jobs were categorized as those with high demand and low control such as waitresses, nursing assistants and others in the service industry. Low stress jobs were those with low demand and high control such as natural scientists and architects.

The other two categories in the review were passive jobs (low demand, low control) such as janitor, miner and other manual labor jobs, and active jobs (high demand, high control) such as doctors, teachers and engineers. People in passive and active jobs didn’t have any increased risk of stroke.

In the six studies analyzed, the percentage of those with high stress jobs ranged from 11 percent to 27 percent of 138,782 participants, according to the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Women with high stress jobs had a 33 percent higher risk of stroke compared to women with low stress jobs. People with high stress jobs were 58 percent more likely to have an ischemic stroke than those with low stress jobs. An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel becomes blocked, preventing proper blood flow to parts of the brain. Ischemic strokes account for 87 percent of all strokes, according to the American Heart Association.

Researchers noted that work stress can lead to unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, reduced physical activity, lower help-seeking behavior and poor eating habits, all of which are risk factors for stroke.

“Virtually every neurological disease is aggravated by stressful conditions,” says Dr. Curtis J. Hayden, Advocate Medical Group neurologist at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “We see increased migraine frequency in headache sufferers. We see increased tremors in patients with Parkinson’s and other diseases. There is a variety of neurological conditions that are made worse under stressful conditions.”