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Shift Work Linked to Increase Risk of Heart Attack, Stroke

Update Date: Jul 27, 2012 11:37 AM EDT
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Could the graveyard shift be preparing your body for the graveyard?

Well, according to a British study, you might want to work in the daytime. Researchers say shift workers are slightly more at risk of having a heart attack or stroke than day workers.

Published in the British Medical Journal, researchers examined results from 34 studies involving over 2 million people. The researchers concluded that shift work was linked to a 23 percent increased risk of heart attack, 24 percent increased risk of coronary event and 5 percent increased risk of stroke.

Among the 2,011,935 people in the studies, more than 17,359 had some kind of coronary event, 6,598 had heart attacks, and 1,854 had ischaemic strokes caused by lack of blood to the brain. Night shifts were associated with the steepest increase in risk for coronary events - 41 percent. However, shift work was not associated with increased death rates from any cause.

"The increased risk of vascular disease apparent in shift workers, regardless of its explanation, suggests that people who do shift work should be vigilant about risk factor modification," the authors wrote in the report.

Researchers say a lack of sleep, poor eating habits and lower levels of physical activity could plague those who work irregular hours and drive up the risk of vascular disease.

Shift work is disruptive to circadian rhythm, impairs sleep quality, and affects work-life balance. Researchers found that night shifts were associated with the steepest increase in risk for coronary events and shift workers are also more likely to smoke and often have worse socioeconomic status than do day workers.

 In the report, the authors say screening programs for risk factors in shift workers could treat dyslipidaemia, smoking, glucose intolerance, and hypertension.

"Shift workers should be educated about cardiovascular symptoms in an effort to forestall or avert the earliest clinical manifestations of disease," the authors wrote.

Researchers say that modification of shift schedules may be beneficial in terms of healthier, more productive workers; however, the long term effects of these alterations on vascular outcomes remain unknown.

"More work is needed to identify the most vulnerable subsets of shift workers and the effects of shift modifying strategies on overall vascular health," they said.

The researchers said night shift workers are up all the time and they don't have a defined rest period, putting them in a state of perpetual nervous system activation, which is bad for things like obesity and cholesterol.

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