Between 1974 and 1978 a study looked how heavy workloads affected the blood pressure, heart rates and behavior of air traffic controllers. Now 218 of the men, traced 20 years later, have been studied for health changes by the team headed by Dr Robert M Rose of the University of Texas Medical Branch. The team found that men who had stronger swings in systolic blood pressure in response to workload were significantly more likely to develop high blood pressure than their colleagues. (Systolic pressure is the top reading of the two when you get your blood pressure checked).
The men, all white, had only mild or no signs of high blood pressure in the original study and by 1994, almost 17% had developed hypertension (high blood pressure).
The way the cardiovascular system reacts to work stress, especially in a job like air traffic control recognized to be highly responsible stressful and requiring high levels of concentration, may help to predict those at future risk of hypertension. Preventative health measures can then be used to target susceptible groups and individuals.
Hypertension is on the increase
Data came from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows the rate of increase to be up by 8% since the last decade, (1988-1994 compared to 1999-2000). There are now about 65 million hypertensive adults in the US. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and the chief risk factor for stroke and heart failure, and also can lead to kidney damage.
There are obviously many reason why the incidence of high blood pressure is increasing besides work stress. Obesity is now one of the most pressing health issues in the US and is thought to be the factor that explains the increase in cases of hypertension.
Article sources: U.S. Census Bureau
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES)
Dr Robert M Rose University of Texas, Medical Branch.