The Job Stress and Stroke Connection

Every 45 seconds someone has a stroke in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. Furthermore, stroke is the third most common cause of death in the country. Studies show that high blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke with various lifestyles factors increasing this risk, such as obesity, lack of exercise, diet, drug use, alcohol, smoking and stress.

In a study conducted by the University of Michigan that followed 2,303 Finnish middle-aged white men for 11 years, researchers found that exaggerated blood pressure reactions to stress were related to a greater risk of having a stroke, says the study's lead author Susan A. Everson, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan.

The men who were more physiologically reactive to stress (measured by high blood pressure) were 72 percent more likely to suffer stroke, compared to men with less reactive blood pressures.

In another study conducted by the Institute of Preventative Medicine in Copenhagen, Denmark, subjects with high stress intensity had almost a doubled risk of fatal stroke compared to subjects who were not stressed.

Could the inability to adapt to stressful situations, especially on the job, be associated with the incidence of stroke?

Research conducted at UCLA, led by Dr. Shelley Taylor, Director of the UCLA Social Neuroscience Lab, indicates that one of the most basic behavioral differences between men and women is how they respond to stress. Researchers found that men often react to stress with a "fight-or-flight" response, and women are more likely to manage their stress with a "tend-and-befriend" response. The result: men are more likely than women to develop certain stress-related disorders including hypertension (high blood pressure) - one of the major causes of a stroke.

In an 18-month study of 573 middle-aged California utility company employees conducted by the University of Southern California, men and women (aged 40 to 60) indicated how they perceived work-related stress. The study's results suggested that men with high levels of job-related stress are at increased risk of atherosclerosis (a build-up of fats in and on the artery walls impairing the ability to deliver blood to the body's tissues and organs) -- another major risk factor for stroke.

One of the most important things you can do to reduce your stroke risk is to keep your blood pressure under control by finding effective ways to manage and minimize your stress. Try out some of these stress management strategies below.

Five Strategies to Reduce Stress

Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins (the "feel-good" neurotransmitters) into your bloodstream and can help you feel more positive and able to tackle problems. According to the American Heart Association/American College of Sports Medicine's joint guidelines on physical activity, healthy adults ages 18-65 should be getting at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity five days of the week.

Eat healthy meals. Healthy eating gives you energy to combat stress by providing you with the essential nutrients that your body requires to function at an optimal level. Eat vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lean meats to give yourself the extra boost needed to combat stress and afternoon fatigue on the job.

Deep Breathing. Deep breathing draws more oxygen into your bloodstream and to your brain which helps relieve stress and helps to physically relax your body. Sit or stand in a relaxed position. Slowly inhale through your nose, counting to five in your head. Let the air out from your mouth, counting to eight in your head as it leaves your lungs. Repeat a few times.

Take B Vitamins. When your body is forced to undergo the demands of physical or emotional stress, B-vitamins and other key nutrients are the first to be depleted. The body not only needs specific nutrients to combat stress, but it must also replace the nutrients that stress directly uses up. Deficiencies of B-vitamins are associated with nerve problems and an increase in stress-related symptoms such as depression, anxiety and irritability.

Get adequate sleep. Getting adequate sleep will help you re-charge your batteries so you can think clearly and function at your optimal level on the job. Doctors recommend 7 to 9 hours for healthy adults.


Akizumi Tsutsumi, MD; Kazunori Kayaba, MD; Kazuomi Kario, MD; Shizukiyo Ishikawa, MD. Prospective Study on Occupational Stress and Risk of Stroke. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2009;169(1):56-61.

American Heart Association Statistics Committee.

Boden-Albala B, Sacco RL. Lifestyle factors and stroke risk: exercise, alcohol, diet, obesity, smoking, drug use, and stress. Current Artherosclerosis Reports. March 2000;2(2):160-6.

Renew-Stress on the Brain. The Franklin Institute. Accessed Dec. 4, 2009.

Mayo Clinic Staff. Stroke. Information Page. Accessed Dec. 4, 2009.

Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, August 2001.

Sutcliffe, V. Job Stress Hard on Men's Arteries. EHS Today. Feb. 26, 2001.

Taylor, S. E., Klein, L.C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung, R. A. R., & Updegraff, J. A. Behaviorial Responses to Stress: Tend and Befriend, Not Fight or Flight. Psychol Rev, 107(3):41-429

Truelsen, T., Nielsen, N., Boysen. G., Grønbæk, M. Self-Reported Stress and Risk of Stroke. Stroke, 2003;34:856-862.