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Study links job stress to heart attacks in older workers

Older people are more vulnerable to angina and heart attacks when faced with job strain.

File photo
File photo
Image: Peter Albrektsen via Shutterstock

AN IRISH-LED study has discovered a link between job strain and heart problems in older workers.

The research, carried out by Vera McCarthy and her team in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health in University College Cork, found that older workers who suffered a coronary event were four times as likely to have high job strain. They are also more likely to report low job control – that is they have little say in the decision-making process or how and when tasks need to be completed.

The level of job strain was determined by the demands of a position, as well as the amount of control enjoyed.

According to the paper’s authors, older male workers are “significantly more likely” to have job strain, despite evidence that job control can act as a potential protective factor for heart disease.

The study, published in the Occupational Medicine journal this month, compared the cases of 208 males. Of the sample, 92 had presented to a hospital with either unstable angina or a cardiac arrest for the first time. The remaining 116 had never experienced a coronary event. Each person who was admitted to intensive care was “matched” with a man of similar age and soci0-economic background.

“We wanted to see from those people what was the relationship between the cardiovascular event and their work life/job characteristics,” explained McCarthy.

She told TheJournal.ie that after establishing that people in the 35 to 74 age bracket who experience heart problems were less likely to have high levels of job control, her team decided to compare younger and older workers.

“Previous studies indicated that younger workers were more susceptible to job strain but we found no association here to heart attacks.

“Age stratified analyses showed a clear difference between younger (less than 50 years old) and older workers with regard to the exposure of job strain, and the association between these factors and cardiovascular disease.”

McCarthy said she hopes the work, which was carried out between 1999 and 2001, could go on to influence policy makers and employees as Ireland’s population continues to age.

“With the National Pensions Framework increasing the pensionable age to 68 by 2028, we would hope that Government, policy makers, employers and occupational health physicians would be aware and conscious of the effects of work stress on older people. It is important to make the work environment a better place for all workers.”

Read: Irish nurses and midwives to march against health cuts>

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