JÖNKÖPING, Sweden — Experiencing job strain does more than just leave us in bad moods when we get home. A new study finds that people who frequently battle stress at the office are far more likely to suffer from the dangerous heart rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation.
Researchers from Jönköping University say that people who have mentally exhausting professions are at a 48 percent higher risk of developing the disorder. Atrial fibrillation, also known as arrhythmia, is the most common heart rhythm ailment, affecting 1 in 4 Americans. It typically causes symptoms including weakness, lethargy, dizziness, shortness of breath, and palpitations. Doctors estimate up to 30 percent of strokes are caused by the condition, which increases one’s risk of an early death.
“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,” says study author Dr. Eleonor Fransson, an associate professor of epidemiology the university, in a statement.
For the study, the authors looked to find a connection between individuals who often battled job strain — work stress that left them with heavy psychological demands and little control over the situation — and arrhythmia.
The researchers say the most stressful are typically ones in which employees encounter frequent job strain, but have little authority when it comes to making their situations any easier. Such professions include nurses, bus drivers, factory or manufacturing employees who work on assembly lines, and even secretaries.
“We need people to do these jobs, but employers can help by making sure staff have the resources required to complete the assigned tasks,” says Fransson. “Bosses should schedule breaks and listen to employees’ ideas on how the work itself and the work environment can be improved.”
For the study, researchers examined data from 13,200 individuals participating in a Swedish health survey in 2006, 2008, or 2010. Participants completed surveys on their lifestyle, health, work conditions, and other sociodemographics. Work-related questions included queries that centered around job demands or control, such as: “Do you have enough time to complete your work tasks?” or “Can you decide how and what to do at work?”
After identifying the number of participants who developed atrial fibrillation in followup examinations about 5.7 years from the start of the study, the researchers determined job strain led to a 37 percent greater risk of being diagnosed with the condition.
“Across studies there was a consistent pattern of work stress being a risk factor for atrial fibrillation,” says Fransson.
Previous research has also connected work stress to coronary heart disease. Fransson says her study shows adds to the proof that a demanding job can be rough on the heart. “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,” she says.
The full study was published May 30, 2018 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.