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Long working hours increase risk of developing heart condition, study shows

Working long hours increases the risk of developing a dangerous irregular heartbeat, research has shown.
Overworked nurse

Working long hours increases the risk of developing a dangerous irregular heartbeat, research has shown.

Scientists compared people who work 35 to 40 hours per week with those who worked for 55 hours or more.

Over a period of ten years, those who worked longer hours were 40% more likely to have the condition atrial fibrillation (AF).

Statistical analysis showed that for every 1,000 participants, an extra 5.2 cases of AF occurred among those working long hours.

European Heart Journal

Results from the study of 85,500 men and women from the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Finland are reported in the European Heart Journal.

Lead researcher Mika Kivimaki, from University College London, said: These findings show that long

Working long hours increases the risk of developing a dangerous irregular heartbeat, research has shown.


People who worked longer hours were 40% more likely to have atrial fibrilliation,
according to a European Heart Journal research report. Picture: iStock

Scientists compared people who work 35 to 40 hours per week with those who worked for 55 hours or more.

Over a period of ten years, those who worked longer hours were 40% more likely to have the condition atrial fibrillation (AF).

Statistical analysis showed that for every 1,000 participants, an extra 5.2 cases of AF occurred among those working long hours.

European Heart Journal

Results from the study of 85,500 men and women from the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Finland are reported in the European Heart Journal.

Lead researcher Mika Kivimaki, from University College London, said: ‘These findings show that long working hours are associated with an increased risk of AF, the most common cardiac arrhythmia.

‘This could be one of the mechanisms that explain the previously observed increased risk of stroke among those working long hours.

‘AF is known to contribute to the development of stroke, but also other adverse health outcomes, such as heart failure and stroke-related dementia.’

Risk of stroke

AF raises the risk of having a stroke because it causes blood to pool and form clots.

During the ten-year follow-up period, a total of 1,061 new cases of AF were recorded among the study participants.

Professor Kivimaki said: ‘Those who worked long hours had a 1.4 times higher risk of developing AF, even after we had adjusted for factors that could affect the risk, such as age, sex, socio-economic status, obesity, leisure time physical activity, smoking and risky alcohol use.

‘Nine out of ten of the AF cases occurred in people who were free of pre-existing or concurrent cardiovascular disease.

Long working hours

‘This suggests the increased risk is likely to reflect the effect of long working hours rather than the effect of any pre-existing or concurrent cardiovascular disease, but further research is needed to understand the mechanisms involved.’

 ‘A 40% increased extra risk is an important hazard for people who already have a high overall risk of cardiovascular disease due to other risk factors such as older age, male sex, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight, smoking and physical inactivity,
or living with an established cardiovascular disease.

‘For a healthy, young person, with few if any of these risk factors, the absolute increased risk of atrial fibrillation associated with long working hours is small.’

More research needed

Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said more research is needed to understand and prove what is behind the association between AF and long working hours.

He added: ‘Significantly, this study clearly shows that the link between AF and long working hours has nothing to do with the other, already known, risk factors for the condition.

‘However, the observational nature of this research means these findings cannot confirm the cause of this relationship – it could be long working hours, it could be the type of work people do or it could be some other, unmeasured, factor.’


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