The role of psychosocial stress at work for the development of cardiovascular diseases: a systematic review

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2012 Jan;85(1):67-79. doi: 10.1007/s00420-011-0643-6. Epub 2011 May 17.


Purpose: A systematic review was carried out to assess evidence for the association between different models of stress at work, and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

Methods: A literature search was conducted using five databases (MEDLINE, Cochrane Library, EMBASE, PSYNDEX and PsycINFO). Inclusion criteria for studies were the following: self-reported stress for individual workplaces, prospective study design and incident disease (myocardial infarction, stroke, angina pectoris, high blood pressure). Evaluation, according to the criteria of the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, was done by two readers. In case of disagreement, a third reader was involved.

Results: Twenty-six publications were included, describing 40 analyses out of 20 cohorts. The risk estimates for work stress were associated with a statistically significant increased risk of cardiovascular disease in 13 out of the 20 cohorts. Associations were significant for 7 out of 13 cohorts applying the demand-control model, all three cohorts using the effort-reward model and 3 out of 6 cohorts investigating other models. Most significant results came from analyses considering only men. Results for the association between job stress and cardiovascular diseases in women were not clear. Associations were weaker in participants above the age of 55.

Conclusions: In accordance with other systematic reviews, this review stresses the importance of psychosocial factors at work in the aetiology of cardiovascular diseases. Besides individual measures to manage stress and to cope with demanding work situations, organisational changes at the workplace need to be considered to find options to reduce occupational risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / psychology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology