by Kim Balter

Heartily overworked

Burnt-out employees have a dramatically increased risk of heart disease

Burnt-out employees have a dramatically increased risk of heart disease
Heartily overworked

As they try to meet their demanding careers, many workers experience job burnout: physical, cognitive, and emotional exhaustion that results from stress at work.

Researchers have found that burnout is associated with obesity, insomnia and anxiety.

Now, researchers have found a link between job burnout and coronary heart disease (CHD), the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries, which leads to angina or heart attack.

Those who were identified as being in the top 20% of the burnout scale were found to have a 79% increased risk of coronary disease.

Calling the results "alarming", doctors say these findings were more extreme than the researchers had expected — and make burnout a stronger predictor of CHD than many other classical risk factors including smoking, blood lipid levels and physical inactivity.

Some of the factors that contribute to burnout are common experiences in the workplace, including high stress, heavy workload, a lack of control over job situations, a lack of emotional support, and long work hours. This leads to physical wear and tear, which will eventually weaken the body.

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

Over the course of the study, a total of 8 838 apparently healthy employed men and women between the ages of 19 and 67 who presented for routine health examinations were followed for an average of 3.4 years. Each participant was measured for burnout levels and examined for signs of CHD. The researchers controlled for typical risk factors for the disease, such as sex, age, family history of heart disease and smoking.

During the follow-up period, 93 new cases of CHD were identified. Burnout was associated with a 40% increased risk of developing CHD. But the 20% of participants with the highest burnout scores had a 79% increased risk.

Healthcare providers who know their patients are experiencing burnout can closely monitor for signs of coronary heart disease as well.

Workers can contribute to 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.

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