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Cardiovascular Morbidity and Mortality in the Workforce

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In the following article, the term cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) refers to organic and functional disorders of the heart and circu- latory system, including the resultant damage to other organ systems, which are classified under numbers 390 to 459 in the 9th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) (World Health Organization (WHO) 1975). Based essentially on international statistics assembled by the WHO and data collected in Germany, the article discusses the prevalence of CVDs, new disease rates, and frequency of deaths, morbidity and disability.

Definition and Prevalence in the Working-Age Population

Coronary artery disease (ICD 410-414) resulting in ischaemia of the myocardium is probably the most significant CVD in the working population, particularly in industrialized countries. This condition results from a constriction in the vascular system that supplies the heart muscle, a problem caused primarily by arteriosclerosis. It affects 0.9 to 1.5% of working-age men and 0.5 to 1.0% of women.

Inflammatory diseases (ICD 420-423) may involve the endo- cardium, the heart valves, the pericardium and/or the heart muscle (myocardium) itself. They are less common in industrialized countries, where their frequency is well below 0.01% of the adult population, but are seen more frequently in developing countries, perhaps reflecting the greater prevalence of nutritional disorders and infectious diseases.

Heart rhythm disorders (ICD 427) are relatively rare, although much media attention has been given to recent instances of disability and sudden death among prominent professional athletes. Although they can have a significant impact on the ability to work, they are often asymptomatic and transitory.

The myocardiopathies (ICD 424) are conditions which involve enlargement or thickening of the heart musculation, effectively narrowing the vessels and weakening the heart. They have attracted more attention in recent years, largely because of improved methods of diagnosis, although their pathogenesis is often obscure. They have been attributed to infections, metabolic diseases, immunologic disorders, inflammatory diseases involving the capillaries and, of particular importance in this volume, to toxic exposures in the workplace. They are divided into three types:

  • dilative—the most common form (5 to 15 cases per 100,000 people), which is associated with the functional weakening of the heart
  • hypertrophic—thickening and enlargement of the myocardium resulting in relative insufficiency of the coronary arteries
  • restrictive—a rare type in which myocardial contractions are limited.

 

Hypertension (ICD 401-405) (increased systolic and/or diastolic blood pressure) is the most common circulatory disease, being found among 15 to 20% of working people in industrialized countries. It is discussed in greater detail below.

Atherosclerotic changes in the major blood vessels (ICD 440), often associated with hypertension, cause disease in the organs they serve. Foremost among these is cerebrovascular disease (ICD 430-438), which may result in a stroke due to infarction and/or haemorrhage. This occurs in 0.3 to 1.0% of working people, most commonly among those aged 40 and older.

Atherosclerotic diseases, including coronary artery disease, stroke and hypertension, by far the most common cardiovascular diseases in the working population, are multifactorial in origin and have their onset early in life. They are of importance in the workplace because:

  • so large a proportion of the workforce has an asymptomatic or unrecognized form of cardiovascular disease
  • the development of that disease may be aggravated or acute symptomatic events precipitated by working conditions and job demands
  • the acute onset of a symptomatic phase of the cardiovascular disease is often attributed to the job and/or the workplace environment
  • most individuals with an established cardiovascular disease are capable of working productively, albeit, sometimes, only after effective rehabilitation and job retraining
  • the workplace is a uniquely propitious arena for primary and secondary preventive programmes.

 

Functional circulatory disorders in the extremities (ICD 443) include Raynaud’s disease, short-term pallor of the fingers, and are relatively rare. Some occupational conditions, such as frostbite, long-term exposure to vinyl chloride and hand-arm exposure to vibration can induce these disorders.

Varicosities in the leg veins (ICD 454), often improperly dismissed as a cosmetic problem, are frequent among women, especially during pregnancy. While a hereditary tendency to weakness of the vein walls may be a factor, they are usually associated with long periods of standing in one position without movement, during which the static pressure within the veins is increased. The result- ant discomfort and leg oedema often dictate change or modifi- cation of the job.

Annual incidence rates

Among the CVDs, hypertension has the highest annual new case rate among working people aged 35 to 64. New cases develop in approximately 1% of that population every year. Next in frequency are coronary heart disease (8 to 92 new cases of acute heart attack per 10,000 men per year, and 3 to 16 new cases per 10,000 women per year) and stroke (12 to 30 cases per 10,000 men per year, and 6 to 30 cases per 10,000 women per year). As demonstrated by global data collected by the WHO-Monica project (WHO-MONICA 1994; WHO-MONICA 1988), the lowest new incidence rates for heart attack were found among men in China and women in Spain, while the highest rates were found among both men and women in Scotland. The significance of these data is that in the population of working age, 40 to 60% of heart attack victims and 30 to 40% of stroke victims do not survive their initial episodes.

Mortality

Within the primary working ages of 15 to 64, only 8 to 18% of deaths from CVDs occur prior to age 45. Most occur after age 45, with the annual rate increasing with age. The rates, which have been changing, vary considerably from country to country (WHO 1994b).

Table 1 shows the death rates for men and for women aged 45 to 54 and 55 to 64 for some countries. Note that the death rates for men are consistently higher than those for women of corresponding ages. Table 2 compares the death rates for various CVDs among people aged 55 to 64 in five countries.

Table 1. Mortality from cardiovascular diseases in 1991 and 1990 in the age groups 45-54 and 55-64 for selected countries.

Country

Men

Women

45-54 Years

55-64 Years

45-54 Years

55-64 Years

Rate

%

Rate

%

Rate

%

Rate

%

Russia**

528

36

1,290

44

162

33

559

49

Poland**

480

38

1,193

45

134

31

430

42

Argentina*

317

40

847

44

131

33

339

39

Britain**

198

42

665

47

59

20

267

32

USA*

212

35

623

40

83

24

273

31

Germany**

181

29

597

38

55

18

213

30

Italy*

123

27

404

30

41

18

148

25

Mexico**

128

17

346

23

82

19

230

24

France**

102

17

311

22

30

12

94

18

Japan**

111

27

281

26

48

22

119

26

*1990. **1991. Rate=Deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. % is from all causes of death in the age group.

 

Table 2. Mortality rates from special cardiovascular diagnosis groups in the years 1991 and 1990 in the age group 55-64 for selected countries

Diagnosis group
(ICD 9th Rev.)

Russia (1991)

USA (1990)

Germany (1991)

France (1991)

Japan (1991)

M

F

M

F

M

F

M

F

M

F

393–398

16.8

21.9

3.3

4.6

3.6

4.4

2.2

2.3

1.2

1.9

401–405

22.2

18.5

23.0

14.6

16.9

9.7

9.4

4.4

4.0

1.6

410

160.2

48.9

216.4

79.9

245.2

61.3

100.7

20.5

45.9

13.7

411–414

586.3

189.9

159.0

59.5

99.2

31.8

35.8

6.8

15.2

4.2

415–429

60.9

24.0

140.4

64.7

112.8

49.2

73.2

27.0

98.7

40.9

430–438

385.0

228.5

54.4

42.2

84.1

43.8

59.1

26.7

107.3

53.6

440

441–448


{50.0}


{19.2}

4.4

18.4

2.1

6.7

11.8

15.5

3.8

4.2

1.5

23.4

0.3

3.8

0.3

3.8

0.1

2.6

Total 390–459

1,290

559

623

273

597

213

311

94

281

119

Deaths per 100,000 inhabitants; M=male; F=female.

Work Disability and Early Retirement

Diagnosis-related statistics on time lost from work represent an important perspective on the impact of morbidity on the working population, even though the diagnostic designations are usually less precise than in cases of early retirement because of disability. The case rates, usually expressed in cases per 10,000 employees, provide an index of the frequency of the disease categories, while the average number of days lost per case indicates the relative seriousness of particular diseases. Thus, according to statistics on 10 million workers in western Germany compiled by the Allgemeinen Ortskrankenkasse, CVDs accounted for 7.7% of the total disability in 1991-92, although the number of cases for that period was only 4.6% of the total (Table 3). In some countries, where early retirement is provided when work ability is reduced due to illness, the pattern of disability mirrors the rates for different categories of CVD.

Table 3. Rate of cardiovascular disease among early pensioners* due to reduced ability to work (N = 576,079) and diagnosis-related work disability in the western part of Germany, 1990-92

Diagnosis group
(ICD 9th Rev.)

Main cause of illness

Access to early retirement; number  per 100,000 early retirees

Average annual work disability 1990–92

 

Cases per 100,000 employed

Duration (days) per case

 

Men

Women

Men

Women

Men

Women

390–392

Acute rheumatic fever

16

24

49

60

28.1

32.8

393–398

Chronic rheumatic heart disease

604

605

24

20

67.5

64.5

401–405

Hypertension, high blood pressure diseases

4,158

4,709

982

1,166

24.5

21.6

410–414

Ischaemic heart diseases

9,635

2,981

1,176

529

51.2

35.4

410, 412

Acute and existing myocardial infarction

2,293

621

276

73

85.8

68.4

414

Coronary heart disease

6,932

2,183

337

135

50.8

37.4

415–417

Pulmonary circulatory diseases

248

124

23

26

58.5

44.8

420–429

Other non-rheumatic heart diseases

3,434

1,947

645

544

36.3

25.7

420–423

Inflammatory heart diseases

141

118

20

12

49.4

48.5

424

Heart valve disorders

108

119

22

18

45.6

38.5

425

Myocardiopathy

1,257

402

38

14

66.8

49.2

426

Stimulus performance disorder

86

55

12

7

39.6

45.0

427

Cardiac rhythm disorder

734

470

291

274

29.3

21.8

428

Cardiac insufficiency

981

722

82

61

62.4

42.5

430–438

Cerebrovascular diseases

4,415

2,592

172

120

75.6

58.9

440–448

Diseases of the arteries, arterioles and capillaries

3,785

1,540

238

90

59.9

44.5

440

Arteriosclerosis

2,453

1,090

27

10

71.7

47.6

443

Raynaud’s disease and other vascular diseases

107

53

63

25

50.6

33.5

444

Arterial embolism and thrombosis

219

72

113

34

63.3

49.5

451–456

Diseases of the veins

464

679

1,020

1,427

22.9

20.3

457

Noninfectious diseases of the lymph nodes

16

122

142

132

10.4

14.2

458

Hypotension

29

62

616

1,501

9.4

9.5

459

Other circulatory diseases

37

41

1,056

2,094

11.5

10.2

390–459

Total cardiovascular diseases

26,843

15,426

6,143

7,761

29.6

18.9

*Early pensioned: Statutory pensions insurance for former Federal Republic of Germany, work disability AOK-West.

 

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Contents

Preface
Part I. The Body
Part II. Health Care
Part III. Management & Policy
Part IV. Tools and Approaches
Part V. Psychosocial and Organizational Factors
Part VI. General Hazards
Part VII. The Environment
Part VIII. Accidents and Safety Management
Part IX. Chemicals
Part X. Industries Based on Biological Resources
Part XI. Industries Based on Natural Resources
Part XII. Chemical Industries
Part XIII. Manufacturing Industries
Part XIV. Textile and Apparel Industries
Part XV. Transport Industries
Part XVI. Construction
Part XVII. Services and Trade
Part XVIII. Guides