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Aug 03, 2012

Shift Workers at Increased Risk for Heart Attack and Stroke

Studies have shown that irregular work shifts are associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

With nearly 1/3 of Americans working outside the traditional 9-5 work shift, many adults are familiar with the difficulties that these off-hour jobs present. They can interfere with family time, sleep and even health. Some studies have shown that irregular work shifts are associated with high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, and a recent study suggests that they may also increase risk for heart attack and stroke – the top killers of men and women in the United States.

This study included more than 2 million people who had work hours outside the standard 9am-5pm shift, and researchers found that shift work was linked to a 23 percent increased risk for heart attack and a 5 percent increased risk of stroke. And those working night shifts were at greatest risk for these cardiac events.

It’s unclear exactly what accounts for this increased risk, but experts have some ideas. While researchers took into account eating habits, smoking and socioeconomic status when analyzing study data, income and access to health care may still play a role in these findings. The way that irregular shifts may affect our body’s natural rhythm may have something to do with it, as disrupting this rhythm can affect sleep, energy, and increase heart rate and blood pressure.

But whatever the cause, it’s important that people with irregular work hours take extra care to reduce any risk factors they may have for heart disease, such as being overweight or having high blood pressure. Taking steps to reduce risk for heart disease could help counteract the effect that shift work may have on heart health, reducing risk for heart disease and stroke. Exercise could also benefit shift workers greatly, since their schedules are likely to cut down on physical activity, which can have a negative effect on heart health. Because when it comes down to it, most people can’t stop working outside of the traditional 9-5, but they can make simple changes that can help reduce their risk for heart disease.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why does shift work affect heart health?

  • Many studies have shown that shift work can have a negative effect on the heart and overall health. Irregular hours are not conducive to a heart-healthy lifestyle, like eating healthy and staying physically active. They can also put added stress on the body, which can increase blood pressure, heart rate and heart health.

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