Burnout And Stress At Work Can Lead To Coronary Heart Disease

April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

More so than in many industrialized nations, Americans work longer hours, take fewer vacation days and retire later in life. It is not surprising, therefore, that with such demanding careers many experience job burnout expressed as physical, cognitive and emotional exhaustion resulting from stress at work. Previous studies have found that burnout is also related to obesity, insomnia and anxiety.

A new study from Tel Aviv University‘s Faculty of Management and Sackler Faculty of Medicine departments has found a link between job burnout and coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD is the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries that leads to angina or heart attacks.

The study, conducted by Dr. Sharon Toker and her colleagues – Profs. Samuel Melamed, Shlomo Berliner, David Zeltser and Itzhak Shpira, was recently published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

A 79 percent increased risk of coronary disease was found among those people identified as belonging to the top 20 percent on the burnout scale. Dr. Toker found these results alarming, saying that they were more extreme than the team expected to find. This makes burnout a stronger predictor of CHD than more classical risk factors such as smoking, blood lipid levels, and physical activity.

Common experiences in the workplace are contributing factors to burnout, including high stress, heavy workload and a lack of control over job situations, a lack of emotional support, and long work hours. The wear and tear this causes will eventually weaken the body.

The researchers hypothesized that because burnout has been associated with other cardiovascular risk factors, such as heightened amounts of cholesterol or fat in the bloodstream, it could also be a risk factor for coronary heart disease.

The study consisted of 8,838 apparently healthy employed participants between the ages of 19 and 67 who presented for routine health exams. The participants were followed for an average of 3.4 years as each was measured for burnout levels and examined for signs of CHD. The research team controlled for typical CHD risk factors such as sex, age, family history of heart disease, and smoking.

In all, 93 new cases of CHD were identified during the follow-up, with burn out being associated with a 40 percent increased risk of developing the disease. Participants in the top 20 percent of the burnout scale had a significant chance of increased risk at 79 percent. Dr. Toker predicts that the results would be even more dramatic with an extended follow-up period.

The team says that these results are valuable for preventative medicine. Their healthcare providers can more closely monitor patients who are experiencing burnout for signs of CHD.

Toker warns that once burnout starts, it sparks a downward spiral and becomes a chronic condition. She says employers can prioritize prevention by promoting healthy and supportive work environments and keeping watch for early warning signs. Employees should contribute to their own prevention by making healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercising more regularly; getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night, and seeking psychological therapy if required.