Study Reveals Increased Risk of Heart Disease for Female Workers

A new study has suggested that female workers who are aged 50 years or younger and suffer from workplace stress are more likely to develop heart disease than older women who are better able to cope with pressure at work. Research undertaken by Denmark’s Glostrup University Hospital took more than 15 years to complete and involved over 12,000 female nurses aged between 45 and 64 years. The aim of the study was to establish whether stress at work could be linked to health problems in women at some stage during their careers; unfortunately, the findings suggest that high levels of workplace stress can result in heart disease for some.

In its study of 12,000 female nurses, Glostrup University Hospital discovered that a total of 580 nurses experienced heart problems – specifically, ischaemic heart disease – during the 15-year monitoring period; of these 580 cases, 369 instances of angina and 138 heart attacks were reported. All of the 580 nurses who suffered heart problems were admitted to hospital. After taking into account various risk factors, including diabetes and smoking, the researchers were able to estimate that those nurses who described workplace stress as “much too high” were 35 per cent more likely to have developed heart disease than those who were in a more comfortable position. Significantly, only those women aged 50 years or less were acutely affected by pressure at work.

The Danish researchers said: “It seems as if the effect of work pressure has a greater impact on younger women. This is in agreement with findings from previous studies looking at age-specific effects in both men and women. The lower risk among the older nurses may be due to other risk factors that become relatively more important with increasing age”. Meanwhile, a cardiac nurse with the British Heart Foundation, June Davison, advised: “If you feel under pressure you should try [to] tackle it in a positive way and get active during work hours. Using the stairs and walking some of the way to work could help act as a stress buster and boost heart health too”.

Stress in the workplace is commonly overlooked in the context of personal injury claims, but it is important that employees are aware that their managers are duty-bound to manage the condition carefully; indeed, employers are under both a statutory and common law duty of care to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their workers and, in this respect, stress is arguably no different to a slip, trip or fall.

The research from Denmark may also suggest a trend that is specific to nursing, as hinted at by Josie Irwin, head of employment relations at the Royal College of Nursing. Ms Irwin said: “Our latest employment survey found that 55 per cent of nurses feel they are under too much pressure at work, making this research worrying reading. We know that safe staffing levels are key to providing the best quality care for patients – this research also suggests under-staffing and excess pressure can have a damaging effect on nurses’ health”.

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