New research indicates that stress could be as significant a health risk factor for the heart as smoking and high blood pressure. It’s a finding which will make today’s employers sit up and listen because it again highlights just how important managing stress is today for maintaining health in the workplace.
A new US study published in the Lancet and reported by the BBC on 12 January 2017 found that constant stress on a deep-lying region of the brain explains the increased risk of heart attack.
It is hoped that by exploring the brain’s management of stress and discovering why it increases the risk of heart disease will allow medical professionals to develop new ways of managing chronic psychological stress. This could mean ensuring that patients who are at risk are routinely screened and that their stress is managed effectively – an issue which will be keenly observed by leading occupational health providers, like Medigold Health, who advise employers on stress management in the workplace.
The study, led by a team from Harvard Medical School, points to heightened activity in the amygdala – an area of the brain that processes emotions such as fear and anger – as helping to explain the link.
The researchers suggest that the amygdala signals to the bone marrow to produce extra white blood cells, which in turn act on the arteries causing them to become inflamed. This can then cause heart attacks, angina and strokes.
The Lancet research looked at two different studies. The first scanned the brain, bone marrow, spleen and arteries of 293 patients, who were tracked for nearly four years to see if they developed CVD. In this time, 22 patients did, and they were the ones with higher activity in the amygdala.
The second very small study, of 13 patients, looked at the relationship between stress levels and inflammation in the body. It found that those who reported the highest levels of stress had the highest levels of amygdala activity and more evidence of inflammation in their blood and arteries.
Dr Ahmed Tawakol, lead author and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said: “Our results provide a unique insight into how stress may lead to cardiovascular disease.
What can be done
“This raises the possibility that reducing stress could produce benefits that extend beyond an improved sense of psychological wellbeing.
Dr Tawakol added: “Eventually, chronic stress could be treated as an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is routinely screened for and effectively managed like other major cardiovascular disease risk factors.”
Commenting on the research, Dr Ilze Bot, from Leiden University in the Netherlands, said more and more people were experiencing stress on a daily basis.
“Heavy workloads, job insecurity or living in poverty are circumstances that can result in chronically increased stress, which in turn can lead to chronic psychological disorders such as depression.”
Emily Reeve, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke from stress normally focused on controlling lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and overeating – but this should change.
Seek expert advice to relieve the pressures on workplace health
Worry and stress go hand in hand and if staff are stressed, it can impact on workplace health, staff retention and the productivity of the business. As an employer, it’s worth gaining an improved understanding of stress.
Leading occupational health providers, Medigold Health, can work alongside your staff to help them become more resilient to the pressures that can lead to stress.
If you are concerned about the incidence of stress among your staff and would like to know how to prevent it contact Medigold today to find out how we can help.