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STRESSFUL JOBS AREN’T LINKED TO HEART ATTACKS, STUDY FINDS

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Feeling stressed out at work and worried it could put your heart's health at risk? Not likely.

Heart attacks are as common among people with low-pressure jobs as those with stressful ones, according to a new study."We were quite surprised by the findings," said Dr. Mark Hlatky, co-author of the study. "We did not see any relationship" between stress in the workplace and coronary artery disease.

The study, published Tuesday in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, looked at 1,489 patients who had undergone coronary angiography - a test to detect blocked arteries - at Duke University Medical Center from March 1986 to June 1990.

"The outcome of patients with defined coronary disease was not affected by job strain," the researchers found.

Job stress was defined as high psychological demands but little ability to control the pace or amount of work required.

"Previous studies did not measure job strain directly in each patient as we were able to do," said Hlatky, an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine.

"This is important, because the amount of job strain varies from person to person, even among (those) with the same job," he said. "The same job conditions, for instance, may be viewed by one person as challenging and by another person as stressful."

The study also found some people with high-stress jobs actually may benefit by returning to work after a heart attack because of the social interaction with their colleagues.

Not all medical experts are embracing the study, however.

"The major limitation of the study is the way that they define stress," said Dr. Dean Ornish of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and the University of California-San Francisco. "Stress is really a subjective experience."

"In our studies, we found the best measure is asking people to define what stress is," he said. "They didn't do that. They measured how much control they have at work versus how much psychological demand there is."

Stress can cause arteries to constrict, blood to clot faster and the heart to beat irregularly, leading to sudden death, Ornish said.

"Stress is not so much a function of your job but more how you react to your job," Ornish said.