The Link Between Work-Related Stress and Stroke

by Wellness Editor – MH

Though it pays well, coaching in the National Football League is hardly a walk in the park. NFL coaches burn the candle at both ends during the work week, pouring over scouting reports, reviewing film and supervising practices. When Sunday finally does come around, a coach can ill-afford to make tactical blunders, since even a single mistake could cost his team a victory. The challenges don’t end with the fourth quarter; coaches who post losing records are usually subject to much criticism and second-guessing.

This heavy workload might partially explain the plight of Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, who experienced an on-field health scare during a November 2013 game against the Indianapolis Colts. While walking off the field as the game reached halftime, Kubiak suddenly collapsed. Once helped back on his feet, the eight-year coaching veteran was quickly rushed to a nearby Houston hospital. Doctors later determined that Kubiak had suffered a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), an ailment also known as a mini-stroke.

In light of Kubiak’s very public health woes, the demanding work schedules of NFL coaches have come under increased media scrutiny. Work-related stress, of course, isn’t just limited to the realm of professional sports. A wide range of professions and jobs place a heavy mental burden on workers, which in turn may contribute to serious health problems. Evidence suggests that stress is at least partially responsible for a sizable number of strokes, which killed nearly 130,000 Americans in 2010 alone.

Studying Workplace Stress

Many strokes occur when arterial blockages prevent blood from reaching the brain. Alternatively, strokes are also triggered when blood vessels inside or adjacent to the brain burst. Regardless of what cases a stroke, people who suffer them are urged to seek immediate medical treatment, as strokes can kill brain tissues if not properly addressed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a number of various factors increase the likelihood for stroke. High blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol often precipitate strokes, as can being overweight or obese. Smokers and diabetics also face an elevated stroke risk.

The possible connection between stroke and stress has received a fair amount of attention in recent years. A decades-long study, finally released in late 2011, found that people who worked stressful jobs were more likely to fall victim to stroke. Researchers began collecting data from participants in 1970, eventually publishing their findings in December 2011 issue of Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

This particular study followed approximately 5000 volunteers, all of whom were male and lived in the Danish capital of Copenhagen. Upon signing up for the study, each man underwent a thorough physical exam. Participants were also quizzed about how often they drank alcohol and/or smoked. Additionally, the researchers examined the prior medical history of all prospective subjects; men with heart disease were excluded from the study, as were those who had previously suffered a heart attack.

Once this vetting process was complete, the volunteers were placed into one of five distinct groups based on social class. The study based social class largely on each participant’s occupation and education level. From 1970 through 2001, the researchers recorded 779 strokes among their pool of subjects, resulting in a total of 167 deaths.

You may think that men on the lower rungs of the economic ladder were more prone to stress, and thus more likely to suffer a stroke. In fact, stressful jobs did not increase incidence of stroke for men in the bottom two social groupings. In contrast, the story was quite different for the upper three classes. Men in these groups who reported regular work-related stress had an increased stroke risk of 38 percent. A possible reason for this could be that more prestigious jobs come with greater responsibilities. Whatever the reason, the study noted that stress could be responsible for 10 percent of strokes in middle and upper class workers.

Other research has found that stress-induced strokes aren’t just a problem for men. A study released in late 2010 reported that women with demanding jobs were 40% likelier to experience serious medical issues, including stroke. The source of this news was the Woman’s Health Study, a long-term research project concerned with preventing cancer and heart disease in women. Over 17,000 women participated in this report.

Putting the Mind at Ease

No matter what your job might be, it’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll encounter at least occasional stress at work. Though completely eliminating stress is all but impossible, a few lifestyle adjustments could keep this problem at a manageable level.

  • Most people start exercising regularly in order to shed weight and build muscle, but routine physical activity has also been found to improve emotional health.
  • In order to get assignments and projects finished faster, some workers bring home office work. Unfortunately, this can also bring additional stress into your home. If possible, try to complete all work-related tasks at your work station.
  • Socializing with friends and acquaintances may help keep your levels of stress under control. Such was the conclusion of research from the University of Minnesota, which featured data from nearly 15,000 college students. This 2013 study found that socially active students who exercised regularly had less stressful lives.

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