A survey of telephone operators suggests that high-stress jobs -- especially those involving computer terminals -- may make heart problems worse.

The North Carolina study showed that 20 percent of women who worked on video display terminals reported angina pain, compared with 10 percent of women who did not use VDTs.

It's not that the machines themselves cause the chest pains of angina, said Suzanne Haynes, now an official at the National Center for Health Statistics. "What's of concern is the way the machine is being used."

She said operators are "lined up within inches of each other," their work can be monitored through the computer, calls usually must be handled in 15 seconds, and the worker has little control over her time. Women in such "low-control" jobs, coupled with intense VDT use, had more than three times the angina rate as people in "high-control" jobs without VDT use, the survey showed.

Haynes conducted the survey of 518 members of the Communications Workers of America union between October 1983 and October 1984 with the University of North Carolina School of Public Health. Some of the funding came from the union.

Locally, a spokesman for C&P Telephone said the company offers a variety of seminars and counseling programs to help its operators and clerks deal with stress.

Operators are among the people who have jobs "that may in their own minds be stressful or cause stress," said C&P's Web Chamberlain.