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Stressful Job Tied to Greater Risk of Heart Rhythm Disorder

People with stressful jobs may be at greater risk for atrial fibrillation, the most common type of heart rhythm disorder, according to a new Swedish study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

The findings show that being stressed at work is linked to a 48 percent higher risk of atrial fibrillation, after adjustment for age, sex, and education. Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include palpitations, weakness, fatigue, feeling light headed, dizziness and shortness of breath.

The most stressful jobs are those that are both psychologically demanding and give employees little control over their work situation; for example, assembly line workers, bus drivers, secretaries, and nurses.

“We need people to do these jobs but employers can help by making sure staff have the resources required to complete the assigned tasks. Bosses should schedule breaks and listen to employees’ ideas on how the work itself and the work environment can be improved,” said Dr. Eleonor Fransson, study author and associate professor of epidemiology at Jönköping University, Sweden.

Atrial fibrillation causes 20-30 percent of all strokes and increases the risk of premature death. One in four middle-aged adults in Europe and the U.S. will develop atrial fibrillation.

“Atrial fibrillation is a common condition with serious consequences and therefore it is of major public health importance to find ways of preventing it. Little is known about risk factors for the disease and especially the role of the work environment,” said Fransson.

For the study, the researchers investigated the link between work stress and atrial fibrillation. The data involved 13,200 participants enrolled into the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Survey of Health (SLOSH) in 2006, 2008, or 2010.

Participants were employed and had no history of atrial fibrillation, heart attack, or heart failure. At study inclusion, participants completed postal surveys on sociodemographics, lifestyle, health and work-related factors.

Work stress was defined as job strain, which reflects jobs with high psychological demands combined with low control over the work situation.

The survey included five questions on job demands and six on control. For example:

  • Do you have to work very hard or very fast?
  • Are there conflicting demands in your work?
  • Do you have enough time to complete your work tasks?
  • Does your work include a lot of repetition?
  • Can you decide how and what to do at work?

During a median follow-up of 5.7 years, 145 cases of atrial fibrillation were identified from national registers.

“In the general working population in Sweden, employees with stressful jobs were almost 50 percent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation. The estimated risk remained even after we took into account other factors such as smoking, leisure time physical activity, body mass index and hypertension,” said Fransson.

The authors then compared their findings with two other studies on the same topic, and found that job strain was associated with a 37 percent increased risk of atrial fibrillation.

“Across studies there was a consistent pattern of work stress being a risk factor for atrial fibrillation,” said Fransson.

“Work stress has previously been linked with coronary heart disease. Work stress should be considered a modifiable risk factor for preventing atrial fibrillation and coronary heart disease,” she said. “People who feel stressed at work and have palpitations or other symptoms of atrial fibrillation should see their doctor and speak to their employer about improving the situation at work.”

Source: European Society of Cardiology



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