MONDAY, Aug. 28, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Long hours on the job may lead to a greater risk of high blood pressure, particularly for people who don't have much control over their work, a new study found.
"Other studies have focused on job stress, we focused on long work hours," said Dr. Dean Baker, director of the University of California, Irvine's Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, and lead author of the report in the September issue of Hypertension.
Baker said that focus was possible because the study relied on a mass of data from a 2001 survey of more than 55,000 California households. "It gave us the statistical power to control for lots of causes of high blood pressure," he said.
After accounting for many other causes of high blood pressure, the researchers said they found a significant association between working more hours and self-reported high blood pressure.
For example, people who worked 40 hours a week were 14 percent more likely to say they had high blood pressure than those working 11 to 19 hours weekly. For those working 41 to 50 hours a week, the incidence was 17 percent higher.
"We found the type of occupation was independently significant," Baker added. "Clerical workers and unskilled workers had more high blood pressure than those in the professions."
Clerical workers were 23 percent more likely to report high blood pressure than professionals, as were 50 percent of unskilled workers.
High blood pressure can lead to a variety of potentially deadly health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
The findings should be taken into account by the people in charge of work hours, Baker said. "We would like employers to understand the health effects of requiring people to work long hours," he said.
Doctors should also pay attention, Baker said. There's a standard list of risk factors for high blood pressure, including obesity, smoking, physical inactivity and diabetes. "Something I would change is to add long work hours to the list," he said.
But Dr. David Meyerson, a senior cardiologist at Johns Hopkins University and a spokesman for the American Heart Association, said, "We need more information before this finding can be translated into legislation limiting work hours."
"The implication now that Americans seem to be working more hours than their European or Asian counterparts has become an issue," Meyerson said.
But because workers with little control over their jobs report more problems, "if one reads between the lines, the key may be whether job satisfaction plays a role," he said.
Meyerson offered this advice to control high blood pressure: "Get plenty of exercise, eat properly, know what your blood pressure is." At the same time, he added, "If at all possible, find a job that offers satisfaction. And if possible, spend more time with the persons you love, rather than at work."
The risks of high blood pressure and what should be done about them are described by the American Heart Association.