Work overcommitment impacts the heart

November 22, 1999

People who approach every workday as a "must-win" race have long been observed to be at higher risk for heart disease, but it's not fully understood why. Recent research conducted by scientists from The Netherlands may help detail the physical mechanism behind this association.

"Individuals who score high on overcommitment are competitive, impatient, have a high need for approval, and are unable to 'let go,'" said study co-author Tanja G. M. Vrijkotte, MSc. "In the long run, they are at risk for feelings of exhaustion and psychological breakdown."

Study authors from Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and Utrecht University in Utrecht, The Netherlands used a questionnaire of perceived work stress to determine the work coping style of 124 middle-aged white collar workers. They then tested the participants' blood on several occasions during the work week.

The questionnaire examined the relationship between the men's work efforts and rewards, since previous research has shown that highly demanding jobs that offer little in the way of compensation tend to be associated with chronic work stress. Also measured was the degree to which the men exhibited work overcommitment, also referred to as an exhaustive work-related coping style.

According to the study, individuals who scored high on work overcommitment may be predisposed to cardiovascular disease. The researchers found that the natural blood clot-dissolving ability of the study participants with an exhaustive work-related coping style tended to be impaired. The scientists report the results of their study in the November/December issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

The human body's clot-dissolving, or fibrinolytic system, normally works hand-in-hand with its clot-forming, or coagulation system. An imbalance in these systems can lead to excessive clot formation and subsequent atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
The study was funded by a grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

Psychosomatic Medicine is the official peer-reviewed journal of the American Psychosomatic Society, published bimonthly. For information about the journal, contact Joel E. Dimsdale, MD, at 619-543-5468.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health < >. For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, < > 202-387-2829.

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