Work stress may be linked to an increased risk of stroke, particularly among women, according to October 2015 research published in Neurology. People working in high-stress jobs had a 22 percent higher risk of stroke than people in jobs with low stress. For women, the risk climbed to 33 percent.
Even more worrisome, researchers found that people in high-stress jobs were 58 percent more likely to have an ischemic stroke — the most common type — than those with low-stress jobs.
A stroke occurs when blood flow is cut off from an area of the brain. About 800,000 people experience a stroke every year in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association. Put another way, that means a stroke happens every 40 seconds in this country. Stroke is the third-leading cause of death among women and the fifth-leading cause of death among men.
The Neurology research is based on data collected from nearly 140,000 people across six different studies that looked at job stress and stroke risk. What's interesting is how the researchers classified jobs: High-stress jobs, they said, come with high psychological job demand and little power or control over the job itself. This category included people in the service industry, such as servers and nurses' aides. Low-stress jobs, they explained, have low psychological demand and lots of control. Natural scientists and architects fit this description, according to the researchers.
The researchers found that 4.4 percent of the increased risk is due to the high-stress job itself (6.5 percent in women). What else contributes to the increased risk isn't clear, but the researchers have some guesses.
"It's possible that high-stress jobs lead to more unhealthy behaviors, such as poor eating habits, smoking and a lack of exercise," said Dingli Xu, MD, with Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, in a statement.