Cardiovascular Disease and Psychosocial Stress: The Hidden Connection Unveiled
By NCVC Staff | Published on Oct 09, 2023
Psychosocial stress, resulting from the struggles of coping with challenging environments, may have a significant impact on women’s risk of developing coronary heart disease, according to a groundbreaking study.
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Unveiling the Study’s Findings
The study, led by researchers at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health and recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, sheds light on the powerful combination of job strain and social strain in women’s health.
Working in synergy, these two factors are associated with a 21% higher risk of coronary heart disease. Job strain occurs when women lack the power to meet the demands and expectations of their workplace.
Additionally, the study reveals that high-stress life events, such as the death of a spouse, divorce/separation, or physical/verbal abuse, as well as social strain, are independently linked to a 12% and 9% higher risk of coronary heart disease, respectively.
To obtain these insights, the Drexel study analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of 80,825 postmenopausal women participating in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. The study aimed to explore improved methods of preventing cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis in women, tracking participants from 1991 to 2015.
The Interplay Between Stress and Heart Problems
Coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, occurs when the heart’s arteries narrow, preventing sufficient oxygenated blood flow. Building on previous research linking psychosocial stress to coronary heart disease, this study focuses on how job strain and social strain compound disease risk.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the ongoing stresses faced by women in balancing paid work and social stressors. While previous studies have shown the role of work strain in developing CHD, our research helps identify the combined impact of stress both at work and at home on these adverse health outcomes,” explains senior author Yvonne Michael, ScD, SM, an associate professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health.
Michael further emphasizes, “These findings should serve as a call for better stress monitoring in the workplace and remind us of the dual burden faced by working women due to their unpaid work as caregivers at home.”
Future studies should explore the effects of shift work on coronary heart disease and delve into the specific impacts of job demands on different genders.
“Our findings serve as a critical reminder to women, and those who care about them, that the threat of stress to human health should never be ignored,” states lead author Conglong Wang, PhD, a recent graduate of Dornsife who conducted the research while at Drexel. “This is especially relevant during the stressors brought about by a pandemic,” Wang adds.
In conclusion, this study highlights the hidden connection between psychosocial stress and cardiovascular disease, urging us to prioritize stress management to safeguard women’s heart health.