Working women are equal to men in a way they'll wish they weren't. Female workers with stressful jobs were more likely than women with less job strain to suffer a heart attack or a stroke or to have clogged arteries, a big federally funded study found.
Worrying about losing a job can raise heart risks, too, researchers found.
The results seem sure to resonate in a weak economy with plenty of stress about jobs - or lack of them. The mere fact this study was done is a sign of the times: Past studies focused on men, the traditional breadwinners, and found that higher job stress raised heart risks. This is the longest major one to look at stress in women, who now make up nearly half of the workforce.
The research involved 17,415 participants in the Women's Health Study, a long-running trial looking at heart disease and cancer prevention. The women were healthy, 57 years old on average, and had worked full or part-time when the study began in 1999.
Researchers put them in four groups based on stress they reported and looked 10 years later to see how they fared.
Women with demanding jobs and little control over how to do them were nearly twice as likely to have suffered a heart attack as women with less demanding jobs and more control. The high-stress group had a 40 percent greater overall risk of heart problems, including heart attacks, strokes or clogged arteries needing bypass surgery or an artery-opening angioplasty procedure.
Women worried about losing their jobs had higher blood pressure, cholesterol and body weight.
Stress can harm by releasing "fight or flight" hormones, spurring inflammation and raising blood pressure, Steinbaum said.
Myths & Truths on Women and Heart Disease
MYTH #1: Most women in America die from cancer.
TRUTH: Heart disease is the leading cause of death of women in the U.S. Almost every minute, a woman in the U.S. dies from heart disease. Nearly five times as many women (200,000) will die from heart attacks alone this year than will die from breast cancer.
MYTH #2: Heart disease is a man's problem.
TRUTH: Since 1984, more women than men have died of heart disease each year. Women have a 28% increased risk of dying as compared to men to die within the first year after a heart attack.
MYTH #3: Only older women have heart disease.
TRUTH: Heart disease threatens all women, even those as young as 30 and 40.For example, the rate of sudden cardiac death of women in their 30s and 40s is increasing much faster than in men their same age-rising 21 percent in the 1990s.
MYTH #4: Most doctors know about women's risk of heart disease.
TRUTH: A 2005 American Heart Association study showed that only eight percent of primary care physicians and 17 percent of cardiologists knew that heart disease kills more women than men.
MYTH #5: Women's and men's heart disease is the same and should be treated the same.
TRUTH: In many cases, the experts don't know. The vast majority of cardiovascular research has been performed on men and/or data have not been separated out based on gender. Where men and women have been studied separately, some important differences have been identified. As importantly, however, women should be treated as aggressively as men when there is proof of benefit, such as using statins and aspirin after a heart attack.
MYTH #6: Women and men with heart disease get the same care.
TRUTH: Far too often, women fighting heart disease are not accurately diagnosed and do not receive the care they need when they need it. A study published in the January, 2009 issue of the journal Heart showed that among heart patients, women were less likely than men to receive medications called beta blockers, statins and ACE inhibitors-which are crucial to prevent further heart problems. Women are also less likely to receive ICDs (an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, a device that helps to control irregular heartbeats) or even aspirin, following a diagnosis of heart disease. Even newer studies confirm the disparities in care and treatment between men and women.[4,5]
MYTH #7: If heart disease isn't in your family, it isn't your problem.
TRUTH: A family history of heart disease does increase risk of developing the disease. But many women without a family history have heart attacks or heart problems. High blood-pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease, poor dietary patterns, high sodium intake, smoking, being overweight or obese, and physical inactivity, all factors that increase your risk of heart disease.
1. Lloyd-Jones D, Adams R, Brown T,. et al. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2010 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Circulation. 2010;121:e1-e170.
2. Zheng ZJ, Croft JB, Giles WH, Mensah GH. Sudden cardiac death in the United States, 1989 to 1998. Circulation. 2001;104:2158-63.
3.Mosca L, Linfante LH, Benjamin EJ, et al. National study of physician awareness and adherence to cardiovascular disease prevention guidelines. Circulation. 2005;111:499-510.
4. Dey S, Flather, MD, Breiger D, et al. Sex-related differences in the presentation, treatment and outcomes among patients with acute coronary syndromes: the Global Registry of Acute Coronary Events. Heart. 2009;95(1):20-6.
5. Curtis LH, Al-Khatib SM, Shea AM, et al. Sex Differences in the Use of Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillators for Primary and Secondary Prevention of Sudden Cardiac Death. JAMA. 2007;298(13):1517-1524.