Shift work link to 'increased risk of heart problems'

shift workers Working night shifts can disrupt the body's clock and lead to health problems

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Shift workers are slightly more at risk of having a heart attack or stroke than day workers, research suggests.

An analysis of studies involving more than 2m workers in the British Medical Journal said shift work can disrupt the body clock and have an adverse effect on lifestyle.

It has previously been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure and diabetes.

Limiting night shifts would help workers cope, experts said.

The team of researchers from Canada and Norway analysed 34 studies.

In total, there were 17,359 coronary events of some kind, including cardiac arrests, 6,598 heart attacks and 1,854 strokes caused by lack of blood to the brain.

These events were more common in shift workers than in other people.

The BMJ study calculated that shift work was linked to a 23% increased risk of heart attack, 24% increased risk of coronary event and 5% increased risk of stroke.

But they also said shift work was not linked to increased mortality rates from heart problems and that the relative risks associated with heart problems were "modest".

Start Quote

Ensuring workers have a minimum of two full nights sleep between day and night shifts can help people to cope with shift work.”

End Quote Jane White Institution of Occupational Safety and Health

The researchers took the socioeconomics status of the workers, their diet and general health into account in their findings.

No rest

Dan Hackam, associate professor at Western University, London, Ontario in Canada, said shift workers were more prone to sleeping and eating badly.

"Night shift workers are up all the time and they don't have a defined rest period. They are in a state of perpetual nervous system activation which is bad for things like obesity and cholesterol," he said.

The authors say that screening programmes could help identify and treat risk factors for shift workers, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

They add that shift workers could also be educated about what symptoms to look out for, which might indicate early heart problems.

Jane White, research and information services manager at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, said there were complex issues surrounding shift work.

"It can result in disturbed appetite and digestion, reliance on sedatives and/or stimulants, as well as social and domestic problems.

"These can affect performance, increase the likelihood of errors and accidents at work, and even have a negative effect on health.

She said the effects of shift work needed to be well managed.

"Avoiding permanent night shifts, limiting shifts to a maximum of 12 hours and ensuring workers have a minimum of two full nights' sleep between day and night shifts are simple, practical solutions that can help people to cope with shift work."

Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said the increased risk to an individual shift worker "was relatively small".

"But many Brits don't work nine to five and so these findings becomes much more significant.

"Whether you work nights, evenings or regular office hours, eating healthily, getting active and quitting smoking can make a big difference to your heart health."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    I work 5 days 2 nights 5 off, then 2 days 5 nights 9 off. Though I spend a lot of time at work when I am there I get more chance to wind down & totally forget about work than someone who only gets 2/7 off. I also miss most of the stress from being stuck in traffic jams so for me I think I have a lot less stress in my life than I would if I worked normal!!! days and probably less chance of a H/A

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    I worked for 7 years doing 24 hour shift coverage on the airport. Yes, I totally agree that it is a young persons game and also women get more messed up on it maybe because of a more complex body clock. Also employers tend to run positions short on staff and rely on willingness to do overtime. Sometimes I was doing 70 hours a week. Gave up due to deteriorating overall health and no personal life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    Shift work is alright for young fit people but is not really suitable for anyone over the age of 30 as a permanent lifestyle. One benefit of it can be that if the shifts are long then the number of days away from work can be higher than 2/7. If you work 12 hour shifts it can be 4/8 which is brilliant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    For those with critically important jobs ie NHS, Police, Fire etc being tired and overworked can be fatal and who's the one going to be blamed for the error - take a wild guess

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Working a night shift in itself is no problem. The problem starts when the shift is over and you get home. Where the majority of people are entitled to a good "nights" sleep and in fact is protected by laws, the night shift worker is not entitled to a good "days" sleep. Try sleeping when there are kids screaming, loud music playing, traffic noise, the guy next door doing DIY,etc.etc.


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