New European research has found that having a stressful job could increase the risk of developing atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm irregularity also known as heart flutter which can lead to stroke, heart failure, and other serious health conditions.
Carried out by researchers at the School of Health and Welfare, Jönköping University, Sweden, the new study looked at 13,200 participants who were all employed and had no history of atrial fibrillation, heart attack, or heart failure.
To assess work stress, participants were asked to answer five questions on their job demands and six questions on how much control they had in their job, 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?
Work stress, or job strain, refers to jobs which are psychologically demanding but give employees little control over the work situation, for example, assembly line workers, bus drivers, secretaries, and nurses.
Participants were also asked to complete surveys on sociodemographics, lifestyle, health, and other work-related factors.
During a median follow-up of 5.7 years, the researchers identified 145 cases of atrial fibrillation using national registers.
After taking into account other potentially influencing factors such as age, sex, smoking status, physical activity, BMI, and high blood pressure, the results showed that being stressed at work was associated with a 48% higher risk of atrial fibrillation.
The team then carried out a small meta-analysis, combining their results from the current study with results from two previously published studies on the same topic, finding that job strain was still associated with a 37% increased risk of atrial fibrillation.
“Across studies there was a consistent pattern of work stress being a risk factor for atrial fibrillation,” commented study author Dr. Eleonor Fransson.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder. Symptoms include palpitations, weakness, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, and shortness of breath. The condition also causes 20-30% of all strokes and increases the risk of dying prematurely.
“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,” explains Dr 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. 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.”
The findings can be found published online in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.