Have YOU got ‘burn out’ from working long hours? Scientists warn you face a higher risk of developing a deadly irregular heartbeat
- Exhausted workers at 20% increased risk of suffering atrial fibrillation later in life
- The irregular heartbeat makes patients susceptible to strokes and heart failure
- LA scientists believe burn out causes inflammation and sensitivity to stress
Employees who have ‘burn out’ from working long hours are more likely to develop an irregular heartbeat, research suggests.
Researchers who tracked 11,000 for 25 years found exhausted and stressed-out workers had a 20 per cent higher risk of suffering atrial fibrillation later in life.
Left untreated, the irregular heartbeat puts patients at a heightened risk of strokes and heart failure, both of which can be deadly.
Burn out, now officially considered a disease by the World Health Organization, is described as ‘chronic workplace stress not successfully managed’.
Sufferers are left exhausted, depleted of energy, void of motivation and disillusioned with their job.
University of Southern California experts, behind the study, said exhaustion triggers inflammation and causes a heightened sensitivity to stress.
These two factors make it harder for the heart to pump blood around the body and could eventually lead to atrial fibrillation, they said.
Employees who have ‘burn out’ from working long hours are far more likely to develop a deadly irregular heartbeat, scientists say
Psychological distress has been suggested as a risk factor for the irregular heartbeat, but previous research has found mixed results.
This was the first study ever conducted to look at the specific link between burn out and atrial fibrillation, an abnormally fast heart rate. A normal heart rate should be between 60 and 100 beats a minute at rest.
It is the most common heart problem, affecting around one million people in the UK and six million in the US.
The heart’s upper chambers contract randomly and sometimes so fast that the heart muscle cannot relax properly between contractions.
WHAT IS BURN-OUT?
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes burn-out as ‘chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,’ along with three defining symptoms:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy
The listing in the WHO’s catalog (the ICD-11) notes that ‘burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.’
It is distinct, the authors say, from other types of adjustment disorder, disorders specifically associated with stress, anxiety or fear-related disorders, and mood disorders – all of which have their own classifications.
It can affect adults of any age, but it’s more common in older people – around seven in 100 over 65s have the irregular heartbeat.
In the study, the LA researchers surveyed more than 11,000 people for the presence of burn out, anger, and antidepressant use.
They then followed up with them after nearly 25 years to check for the development of atrial fibrillation.
Volunteers with the highest levels of burn out had a fifth higher risk of the condition compared to those who were not exhausted from work.
There were no connections between anger, antidepressant use, or a lack of social support and the development of atrial fibrillation.
Lead study author Dr Parveen Garg said: ‘Vital exhaustion is associated with increased inflammation and heightened activation of the body’s physiologic stress response.
‘When these two things are chronically triggered that can have serious and damaging effects on the heart tissue, which could then eventually lead to the development of this arrhythmia.
‘Vital exhaustion, commonly referred to as burn out syndrome, is typically caused by prolonged and profound stress at work or home.
‘The findings for anger and social support are consistent with prior research but two previous studies did find a significant association between antidepressant use and an increased risk of atrial fibrillation. Clearly, more work still needs to be done.’
The findings were published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
WHAT IS ATRIAL FIBRILLATION?
Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.
A normal heart rate should be regular and between 60 and 100 beats a minute when you’re resting.
You can measure your heart rate by feeling the pulse in your neck or wrist.
In atrial fibrillation, the heart rate is irregular and can sometimes be very fast. In some cases, it can be considerably higher than 100 beats a minute.
This can cause problems including dizziness, shortness of breath and tiredness.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disturbance, affecting around 1 million people in the UK.
It can affect adults of any age, but it’s more common in older people. It affects about 7 in 100 people aged over 65.
You may be aware of noticeable heart palpitations, where your heart feels like it’s pounding, fluttering or beating irregularly, often for a few seconds or, in some cases, a few minutes.
You should make an appointment to see your GP if:
- you notice a sudden change in your heartbeat
- your heart rate is consistently lower than 60 or above 100 (particularly if you’re experiencing other symptoms of atrial fibrillation, such as dizziness and shortness of breath)
- See your GP as soon as possible if you have chest pain.