Stress levels have long been known to increase the risk of a heart attack but this new study is one of the first to identify a connection with the risk of having a stroke.
"Previous studies on the association between job strain and stroke have showed mixed results, with some studies showing an association and others not," said the study’s lead author, Eleonor Fransson.
The new analysis pooled the results of 14 earlier studies and found that people with job strain were about 24 per cent more likely to suffer an ischemic stroke than those without a demanding career.
Ischemic strokes occur when the brain doesn't get enough oxygen — say, for example, if the arteries are clogged – and each year an average of 115 men and 75 women a stoke of this kind.
Altogether, almost 200,000 adults completed the study which lasted approximately nine years – those with a demanding job and little control over their work environment were categorized as having high 'job strain.' This accounted for 13 to 22 per cent of all participants.
While the research doesn’t definitely prove that stress causes an increased risk, Fransson says the association is more than plausible; “Stress [can] cause the release of stress-related hormones, which in turn affect the metabolic, immunological and cardiovascular systems," she said – ischemic stroke, like heart attack, is closely linked to atherosclerosis, otherwise known as 'hardening of the arteries.’
Because the participants were categorized by how much control they had over their working environment, the study’s authors argue that the results should be of particular concern to employers.
"Here we have a very big issue because it's employers' responsibility to see that working conditions are healthy," said co-author Susanna Toivanen. "Individuals can't control this."
Just last week, the Canadian government was encouraged to adopt national standards for a “psychologically healthy” workplace and it seems, as time goes on, that only more information will arise to support the push.
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Mental wellbeing in the workplace is gradually becoming a hot topic but while the stigma is fast wearing off, some doubters still consider stress a secondary health risk. Now, a comprehensive study has gone some way in proving job strain has a direct impact on stroke risk.