Middle-aged men who feel stressed at work may be more likely to develop atherosclerosis -- a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries that is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke -- according to a new study.
The report shows that 36 percent of men who had high levels of job-related stress had signs of atherosclerosis in their carotid arteries, the large arteries in the neck that deliver blood to the head.
Only 21 percent of men with low levels of stress experienced the same buildup.
Atherosclerosis partially blocks arteries, and impairs their ability to deliver blood to the body''s organs and tissues. Atherosclerosis of the carotid arteries increases the risk of stroke.
Dr. James H. Dwyer, of the University of Southern California and colleagues measured atherosclerosis and stress levels in 573 employees of a Californian utility company who were between the ages of 40 and 60 years.
Twice over an 18-month period, the men and women answered questions that measured how they perceived work-related stress, whether or not they thought about work while at home or whether they had trouble sleeping due to on-the-job stress.
Their results "suggest that men with greater work-related stress are at increased risk for atherosclerosis," Dwyer and colleagues wrote in the March issue of the journal Epidemiology.
The link between stress levels and artery hardening was not seen among women. This might be because women are somehow protected against the effects of stress on arteries, possibly by hormones, the authors say.
It could also be that the survey questions did not accurately assess women''s stress levels.
by Virginia Sutcliffe