Women with high-stress jobs may be more likely to have a heart attack

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(CBS News) Stress at work may have an adverse effect on your heart health if you're a woman.

A new study shows that women who have high-stress jobs are 67 percent more likely to have a heart attack and 38 percent more likely to have any kind of cardiovascular event than women who have more low-stress jobs.

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"Elevated job strain, a form of psychological stress, has long term cardiovascular health effects in women and could suggest the need for health care providers to incorporate assessment of and identification of useful interventions that minimize the effects of job strain," Dr. Michelle A. Albert, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School,wrote in the study.

The study, published in the July 18 issue of PLoS ONE, looked at more than 22,000 women working in the health care industry in the United States who were part of the Women's Health Study. Their average age was 57, and the women were predominantly white.

Women's jobs were divided into four categories: low strain (low demand, high control); passive (low demand, low control); active (high demand, high control) and high strain (high demand, low control). The women were monitored for the number of heart attacks, strokes, heart procedures and deaths that occurred after a 10-year follow-up period.

"High strain is defined as high demand and low control," Albert told WebMD, using as an example a factory job in which a worker is pressured to produce.

While the researchers found higher rates of heart problems among women with high-strain jobs, they did not find any increased long-term cardiovascular risk in women who reported job insecurity. Women with active strain jobs, such as managers, were also shown to have this increased risk.

Depression and anxiety, which are risk factors for heart disease, were found only to slightly contribute to the link between stress and heart problems in women. Albert told Health.com that job stress may lead to over-activation of the body's stress system, releasing stress hormones which may lead to higher blood pressure, insulin resistance and other processes that may damage the heart's blood vessels.

She told CBS station WBZ in Boston that it's important for women to recognize when stress is taking a toll, whether it's chest pains, frequent headaches or feeling overly "worked up."

She recommends to maintain a healthy lifestyle, women should increase their physical activity, lean on social support and make sure they have time to allow themselves to de-stress.

"You're not going to get rid of stress," said Dr. Albert. "Stress is a normal part of life."

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