Coping with unfair treatment at work--what is the relationship between coping and hypertension in middle-aged men and Women? An epidemiological study of working men and women in Stockholm (the WOLF study)

Psychother Psychosom. 2000 Mar-Apr;69(2):86-94. doi: 10.1159/000012371.


Background: An important hypothesis in psychosomatic medicine is that exposure to psychosocial factors that arouse anger may accelerate the onset of hypertension, particularly if the subject is not allowed to show anger or to deal constructively with the factor that evoked it. For working men and women, being treated in an unfair way at work may be crucial. The present study was designed to answer the question whether the pattern of coping - primarily directed towards the aggressor (open) or directed inwards or towards others (covert) - is associated with hypertension among working men and women.

Study group: Five thousand seven hundred and twenty working men and women aged 15-64 participated in the study. The participation rate was 76%.

Methods: The coping pattern was studied by means of a Swedish version of a self-administered questionnaire that was originally introduced by Harburg et al.

Results: Significant results were confined to the age group 45-54. All analyses were adjusted for age and body mass index. Smoking habits and social class had no effect on the relationships. Low scores (lowest quartile) for open coping tended to be associated with an elevated prevalence ratio (PR) of hypertension both among men (PR 1.3, 95% confidence interval, CI, 0.9-1.7) and women (PR 1.4, 95% CI 1.0-2.0). High scores for covert coping (highest quartile) were associated with an elevated PR of hypertension among men (PR 1.6, 95% CI 1.2-2.2) but not in women. If the analysis was confined to cases without medication, the relationship between a high level of covert coping and high blood pressure was still significant for men. For women, however, no significant findings were made after this operation. Accordingly, the relationship between a low level of open coping and hypertension in women was confined to women with medication. Coping patterns were correlated with psychosocial work environment factors, in particular decision latitude.

Conclusion: In men, covert coping was associated with prevalence of hypertension. In women, there tended to be a relationship between low scores for open coping and hypertension.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Age Factors
  • Anger
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Hypertension / etiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires