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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Too Many Hours at Work may harm the Heart Disease


It may be time to add a long workday to the list of danger factors for heart disease. A new study has found that office workers in England considerably increased their chances of having a heart attack by working more hours than their peers.

The study, conducted by researchers at University College London, found that workers who regularly worked 11-hour days or longer were 67 percent more likely to develop heart disease than those who worked seven- or eight-hour days.

One U.S. specialist said many factors could account for the rise in risk among those tied too long to the office.

Those working long hours may have very less time for exercise, healthy eating and physician’s visits," said Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, associate chief of cardiology at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. "They may be exposed to more strain, get less sleep and engage in other behaviors which contribute to cardiovascular risk."

About 70 percent of the workers were men, and most (91 percent) were white. Roughly 2.7 percent developed coronary heart disease by the end of the study, the researchers establish.

Participants reported how many hours they spend on the job, including work they took home with them. More than half (54 percent) put in between seven and eight hours a day, while 21 percent worked a nine-hour day, and 15 percent spent 10 hours on the job daily, the study will establish. Slightly more than 10 percent workers 11 hours or more.

Besides bumping up the risk for heart disease by 67 percent compared to people working an eight-hour day, working 11-plus hours a day also put some people into an entire other risk category, the team found.

"Adding working hours to the Framingham risk score better identification of persons who later developed heart disease," explained study co-author Mika Kivimaki. The Framingham risk score, aimed at gauging heart disease risk, is developed from data that includes age, sex, blood pressure level, cholesterol levels, and whether or not a patient smokes, said Kivimaki, a professor of social epidemiology at University College London.

Still, Kivimaki stressed that her team could not verify a direct cause-and-effect relationship between putting in lots of overtime and getting heart disease.

Looking at "lifestyle factors," such as time spent working, is an increasing part of heart disease research, noted Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"This is important because patients in a higher-risk category would be treated more forcefully for prevention of coronary heart disease," she said.

Longer working hours are becoming more frequent in developed countries, the study authors noted, and that could possibly increase workers' odds for coronary heart disease. They added that earlier research in Europe and Japan has shown similar links between long work hours and heart attacks, and Kivimaki said "the new information may improve decisions regarding lifestyle interventions and medication for heart disease."

While no changes should be made to patient care at this time, Kivimaki said that if findings were supported by more research, adding questions about working hours to physical exams would be "simple and cost-free."

Considering new risk factors that are "adding stress to peoples' lives may be well worth contemplating," she said. In that sense, the study is "not the end of the conversation, it's the beginning of one."

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