Work stress could be causing surge in women ‘suffering heart disease warning signs’

Work stress could be causing surge in women ‘suffering heart disease warning signs’
‘Traditionally men have been perceived to be more affected by heart attacks and strokes than women, but in some countries, women have overtaken men,’ says study’s author

Stress in the workplace could be leading to a troubling surge in women suffering warning signs of heart disease, a new study has found.

Researchers discovered work-related stress, sleep disorders, and tiredness – which are important but non-traditional risk factors for having a heart attack or a stroke – are surging more sharply among women than men.

The study, which was presented at the European Stroke Organisation Conference on Wednesday, discovered the proportion of men and women reporting stress at work increased from 59 per cent in 2012 to 66 per cent in 2017.

While those who felt overtired rose from 23 per cent to 29 per cent in this time period. But women were far more likely to report sleepless nights and exhaustion – with some 33 per cent of women doing so, in comparison to 26 per cent of men.

While the amount of men and women reporting sleep disorders rose from 24 per cent to 29 per cent in this time period, with severe sleep disorders also increasing more steeply in women than men.

Researchers note the “alarming” increase in the number of women reporting non-traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease tallies with a rise in the amount of women in full-time work – with this number soaring from 38 per cent in 2007 to 44 per cent in 2017.

Dr Susanne Wegener, one of the study’s authors, said diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, and arterial hypertension are established risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

But more recently it has been demonstrated that less conventional risk factors like work pressures and sleep problems can substantially increase cardiovascular risk, Dr Wagner, a neurology professor at the University of Zurich, added.

She said: “Traditionally men have been perceived to be more affected by heart attacks and strokes than women, but in some countries, women have overtaken men. There is a gender gap and further research is needed to find out why”.

The study examined data from 22,000 men and women in the Swiss Health Survey from 2007, 2012, and 2017.

Cardiovascular diseases are responsible for a quarter of all deaths in the UK each year. While it has been estimated there will be an extra 40,000 strokes per year in the EU by 2047, which signifies a rise of three per cent. Some 80 per cent of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented.

In a joint statement, Dr Martin Hansel, neurologist at the University Hospital Zurich, and Dr Wegener said: “Our study found men were more likely to smoke and be obese than women, but females reported a bigger increase in the non-traditional risk factors for heart attacks and strokes, such as work stress, sleep disorders, and feeling tired and fatigued.

“This increase coincides with the number of women working full time. Juggling work and domestic responsibilities or other socio-cultural aspects may be a factor, as well as specific health demands of women that may not be accounted for in our daily ‘busy’ lives.

“We found an overall increase in non-traditional risk factors in both sexes, but these were more pronounced in female participants, while most traditional cardiovascular risk factors remained stable.”

It comes after The Independent reported on a study which found women are forced to wait more than five times longer than men for a heart failure diagnosis.

Researchers discovered women are 96 per cent more likely to get an incorrect diagnosis of heart failure than men – attributing sharp disparities to such problems being wrongly viewed as “a man’s disease”.

The study, conducted by leading heart failure charity the Pumping Marvellous Foundation, found men said they waited an average of just over three and a half weeks to get a formal diagnosis after their first GP visit, but women waited just over 20 weeks instead.

Meanwhile, a previous US study found women suffering from heart attacks have their odds of death drastically reduced if they are treated by female doctors.

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