A new study out of Philadelphia suggests social strain and stress are linked with a significantly higher risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) in women.
Researchers at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health recently published the study in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
They found that psychosocial stress — often resulting from living within challenging environments — can have a significant affect on women’s health. The effects of job strain and social strain were identified as areas that contributed to a 21 per cent higher risk of developing coronary heart disease. The researchers classified job strain having inadequate power in the workplace to respond to the job’s demands and expectations.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted ongoing stresses for women in balancing paid work and social stressors. We know from other studies that work strain may play a role in developing CHD, but now we can better pinpoint the combined impact of stress at work and at home on these poor health outcomes,” said Yvonne Michael, senior author of the study and associate professor at Dornsife School of Public Health. “My hope is that these findings are a call for better methods of monitoring stress in the workplace and remind us of the dual-burden working women face as a result of their unpaid work as caregivers at home.”
The researchers analyzed a nationally representative sample of 80,825 postmenopausal women who were tracked from 1991 to 2015.
Nearly five per cent of the women developed CHD during the more than 14-year study. Adjusting for age, time at a job, and socioeconomic characteristics, high-stress life events were associated with a 12 per cent increased CHD risk, and high social strain was associated with a 9 per cent increased risk.
The study also found that high-stress life events, such as a spouse’s death, divorce and separation or physical or verbal abuse, as well as social strain, were each independently linked with a 12 per cent and nine per cent higher risk of coronary heart disease, respectively.
The women in the study were also more likely to be current smokers and have hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and high cholesterol levels compared with women without CHD.
CHD, the second leading cause of death in Canada, occurs when the heart’s arteries become narrow and cannot bring sufficient oxygenated blood to the heart.
Although CHD is almost two times as likely to occur in men than women, it is still a leading cause of death for women. CHD is also responsible for a 53 per cent higher death rate in Indigenous women compared to non-Indigenous women.
The study’s researchers added that future exploration of how job demands intersect with gender may be pertinent along with the correlation between shift work and CHD.
“Our findings are a critical reminder to women, and those who care about them, that the threat of stress to human health should not go ignored,” said lead author Conglong Wang, PhD, a recent Dornsife graduate who conducted the research while at Drexel. “This is particularly pertinent during the stressors caused by a pandemic.”
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