Workplace bullying, violence can increase your heart attack risk, study says

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Are you being bullied at work? The mistreatment could lead to heart issues, according to a new report.

Researchers from health institutions in Denmark and Sweden conducted a study, published in 2018 in the European Heart Journal, to determine the association between cardiovascular disease and bullying and violence at work.

To do so, they examined nearly 80,000 adults, ages 18 to 65, who did not have a history of the illness. The subjects reported incidents of workplace bullying and violence, which was defined as “being exposed to violent actions or threats of violence at work,” the authors wrote.

Overall, about 9% of the participants said they had been bullied, and about 13% said they had been exposed to violence on the job. After a 12-year follow-up, about 4% of the group had been diagnosed with heart disease or hospitalized for related events like a heart attack or stroke.

The scientists found that people bullied on the job were 59% more likely to develop heart disease or have a heart attack or stroke, compared to the nonbullied individuals. Employees exposed to violence had a 25% higher chance of getting cardiovascular disease, or having a heart attack or stroke.

"Workplace bullying and workplace violence are distinct social stressors at work. Only 10-14 percent of those exposed to at least one type of exposure were suffering from the other at the same time," lead author Tianwei Xu said in a statement. "These stressful events are related to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in a dose-response manner — in other words, the greater the exposure to the bullying or violence, the greater the risk of cardiovascular disease."

The team noted workplace violence does not necessarily cause cardiovascular disease. However, they believe the effects of bullying can be detrimental. In fact, they wrote that it’s “comparable to other risk factors, such as diabetes and alcohol drinking, which further highlights the importance of workplace bullying and workplace violence in relation to cardiovascular disease prevention.”

The analysts now hope to continue their investigations to explore behavioral and biological factors that increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.

“It is important to prevent workplace bullying and workplace violence from happening, as they constitute major stressors for those exposed,” the authors concluded. “It is also important to have policies for intervening if bullying or violence occurs.”