A new study suggests people who are bullied at work or experience violence at work are at higher risk of heart and brain blood vessel problems.

Researchers have looked at data from 79,201 working men and women in Denmark and Sweden, aged 18 to 65, with no history of cardiovascular disease (CVD), who were participants in three studies that started between 1995 and 2011.

When they joined the studies, the participants were asked about bullying and violence in the workplace and how frequently they experienced each of them.

Information on the number of cases of heart and brain blood vessel disease and deaths was obtained from nationwide registries.

Nine per cent of participants reported being bullied at work and 13 per cent reported experiencing violence or threats of violence at work in the past year.

After adjusting for age, sex, country of birth, marital status and level of education, the researchers found that those who were bullied or experienced violence (or threats of violence) at work had a 59 per cent and 25 per cent higher risk of CVD respectively compared to people who were not exposed to bullying or violence.

The more bullying or violence that was encountered, the greater the risk of CVD.

Compared with people who did not suffer bullying, people who reported being bullied frequently (the equivalent to being bullied almost every day) in the past 12 months had a 120 per cent higher risk of CVD, while those who were exposed most frequently to workplace violence had a 36 per cent higher risk of cerebrovascular disease (such as stroke) than those not exposed to violence, but there did not appear to be a corresponding increase in heart disease.

“From this study we cannot conclude that there is a causal relation between workplace bullying or workplace violence and cardiovascular disease,” says researcher Tianwei Xu from the University of Copenhagen.

“But we provide empirical evidence in support of such a causal relation, especially given the plausible biological pathway between workplace major stressors and cardiovascular disease.

“This is further supported by the dose-response trend and the robustness of the results in various sensitivity analyses. Experimental studies on violence and bullying would be highly unethical and our study thus provides the best evidence of this association.”

The study is accessible here.