A recent study of Scandinavian workers suggests employees who are bullied or experience violence at work may face an additional stressor – an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Researchers analyzed three population-based studies from Sweden and Denmark. The studies, conducted between 1995 and 2011, comprised nearly 80,000 workers between the ages of 18 and 65 who had no prior incidence of cardiovascular disease. Participants were surveyed on workplace bullying or violence at the start of the study and were followed throughout the analysis.

The researchers then looked at incidence of cardiovascular disease, including first hospitalizations for coronary heart disease or cerebrovascular disease, identified through “nationwide registries based on the International Classification of Disease (ICD) 8, 9 and 10 codes.”

They found that 9% of participants said they were bullied at work and 13% reported they experienced violence or threats within the past year. Workplace bullying and experiencing violence were linked to a 59% and 25% higher risk of cardiovascular disease, respectively, after adjustments for age, sex, education, marital status and country of birth.

Additionally, workers who were bullied frequently – almost every day – in the previous 12 months had a 120% higher risk of cardiovascular disease compared with people who were not bullied. Colleagues were responsible for workplace bullying 79% of the time. Threats of violence were initiated 9% of the time by co-workers.

“The effect of bullying and violence on the incidence of cardiovascular disease in the general population is comparable to other risk factors such as diabetes and alcohol drinking,” according to lead author Tianwei Xu, a doctoral student at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. “It is important to prevent workplace bullying and workplace violence from happening, as they constitute major stressors for those exposed. It is also important to have policies for intervening if bullying or violence occurs.”

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