Millions of women at risk of deadly episode due to work

MILLIONS of women could be at risk of a deadly heart attack or stroke because of work pressure, a study has suggested.

Researchers said women’s heart health is in danger because of an “alarming” rise in risk factors like work stress, fatigue and sleep disorders.

Women are seeing more risk factors linked to heart attack and stroke than previously


Women are seeing more risk factors linked to heart attack and stroke than previouslyCredit: Alamy

More women going into full-time work in recent decades could be making them more likely to have strokes and heart attacks.

Scientists in Switzerland found elements like stress are all shooting up faster in working women than in men, who are traditionally more likely to have heart attacks.

Dr Martin Hänsel, from the University of Zurich, said: “Men are more likely to smoke and be obese than women.

“But females reported a bigger increase in the non-traditional risk factors for heart attacks and strokes, such as work stress, sleep disorders, and feeling tired and fatigued.

“This increase coincides with the number of women working full time – juggling work and domestic responsibilities may be a factor.”

The study, presented at the European Stroke Organisation Conference, compared data from 22,000 Swiss men and women between 2007 and 2017.

It found two thirds of adults now complain of work-related stress – 66 per cent in 2017, up from 59 per cent in 2012.

And the proportion of women working full time rose from 38 to 44 per cent in the same period.

One in three women – 33 per cent – said they felt tired or worn out, compared to 26 per cent of men.

And women saw a faster rise in sleeping problems during the study, with eight per cent more of them suffering compared to a five per cent increase in men.

However, traditional heart risks, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, stayed about the same and were still more common in men.

Dr Susanne Wegener added: “Traditionally men have been seen to be more affected by heart attacks and strokes than women, but in some countries women have overtaken men.”

Are you burnt out?

We all live busy lives, but some people are more prone to the consequences on health.

Some signs of this include: 

  1. Poor sleep
  2. An unsettled stomach and poor digestion
  3. High blood pressure
  4. Constantly thinking about work when at home
  5. A snappy and irritable mood
  6. Never having enough time for work deadlines, projects, family or even yourself
  7. Poor concentration
  8. Socialising less

Although our body thrives on short bursts of stress and activity, it also gets depleted by long term or repetitive exposure to stresses. 

Prolonged stress can stop you sleeping properly, can cause you to lose your appetite and can make you feel socially isolated.

In the long term, stress has a damaging effect on a number of body systems including our digestion, sleep, reproductive and immune system and even our ability to think clearly.

“Burn out” is so serious that the World Health Organisation officially added it to its International Classification of Diseases (ICD), in effect from 2022.

The WHO defines burn out as being caused by “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”, but tides not apply to other areas of life. 

Research has indicated people in high-stress jobs die earlier.

A study from the University Kelley School of Business, in Indiana, found that cancer was the leading cause of death in people who died early, followed by circulatory system ailments. 

How to prevent a heart attack or stroke

The NHS says you can do these things to prevent a heart attack or stroke:

  • Quit smoking
  • Get to a healthy weight
  • Exercise (at least 150 minutes a week)
  • Eat a low-fat, high-fibre diet, with plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Moderate alcohol consumption
  • Ensure any underlying health conditions are properly managed

All of these prevention methods reduce the risk of things like obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

These are directly linked with risk of heart disease and stroke.

They can lead to coronary heart disease (CHD), the leading cause of heart attacks, atherosclerosis, the leading cause of ischaemic stroke, or haemorrhagic strokes, a type of stroke caused by high blood pressure. 

The signs you may be heading for a heart attack or stroke

Heart attack

There are several signs you could have a heart problem.

Sometimes it’s an early warning sign, but other times it signals you are headed towards a life-threatening event or are experiencing one, and should call 999.

British Heart Foundation Professor David Newby says these are:

  • Chest pain: Accompanied with feeling extremely unwell means you should already call an ambulance.
  • Feeling sick: If you feel sick just sitting around, and it comes with chest pain, you should call an ambulance.
  • Stomach pain or indigestion
  • Feeling sweaty: With chest pains you should call an ambulance.
  • Leg pain: See your GP
  • Arm pain: If it’s in the left arm or into the neck and doesn’t go away, call an ambulance.
  • Jaw or back pain: This is typically felt more by women having a heart attack than men. If it doesn’t go away, call an ambulance. 
  • Swollen ankles: See your GP
  • Extreme fatigue: See your GP
  • Choking sensation: Call NHS 111, but an ambulance if it comes with signs listed above. 
  • Irregular heartbeat: If it’s very fast and jumping erratically, see your GP. If you experience blackouts, call an ambulance.


Strokes strike suddenly. But sometimes early warning signs start several days before.

These are:

  • Numbness or tingling
  • Headache 

You might have heard the FAST acronym before – an easy way to remember the most common warning signs of a stroke and the importance of acting quickly:

  • Face drooping (if you ask them to smile then it will be crooked or one-sided)
  • Arm weakness or numbness (if you ask them to lift both arms, one will drop lower than the other)
  • Speech problems such as slurring or difficulty repeating a sentence
  • Time to call an ambulance

You should also watch out for these potential symptoms of a stroke:

  • A sudden, severe headache
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Loss of vision or changes to your vision in one or both eyes, which usually happens suddenly
  • Feeling confused or having trouble understanding things that are usually easy for you
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body (or in one arm or leg)
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