Job strain, blood pressure and response to uncontrollable stress

J Hypertens. 1999 Feb;17(2):193-200. doi: 10.1097/00004872-199917020-00003.


Objective: The association between cardiovascular disease risk and job strain (high-demand, low-control work) may be mediated by heightened physiological stress responsivity. We hypothesized that high levels of job strain lead to increased cardiovascular responses to uncontrollable but not controllable stressors. Associations between job strain and blood pressure reductions after the working day (unwinding) were also assessed.

Design: Assessment of cardiovascular responses to standardized behavioral tasks, and ambulatory monitoring of blood pressure and heart rate during a working day and evening.

Participants: We studied 162 school teachers (60 men, 102 women) selected from a larger survey as experiencing high or low job strain.

Methods: Blood pressure, heart rate and electrodermal responses to an externally paced (uncontrollable) task and a self-paced (controllable) task were assessed. Blood pressure was monitored using ambulatory apparatus from 0900 to 2230 h on a working day.

Results: The groups of subjects with high and low job strain did not differ in demographic factors, body mass or resting cardiovascular activity. Blood pressure reactions to the uncontrollable task were greater in high than low job-strain groups, but responses to the controllable task were not significantly different between groups. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure did not differ between groups over the working day, but decreased to a greater extent in the evening in subjects with low job strain.

Conclusions: Job strain is associated with a heightened blood pressure response to uncontrollable but not controllable tasks. The failure of subjects with high job strain to show reduced blood pressure in the evening may be a manifestation of chronic allostatic load.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Blood Pressure Monitoring, Ambulatory
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / psychology
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Reference Values
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Work / physiology*
  • Work / psychology
  • Workload* / psychology