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 72.

    Our (service) company decided to put us on early and late shifts to avoid paying overtime for call-outs or on-call payments.
    Try working 10 days in a row when some days are early start- some normal 9-1730 and some are late starts - but not more than 3 days in a row are the start times, and especially starting early immediately after a late shift.
    Don't think it has worked but they wont admit it

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    I worked shifts for 9 years. I felt rough between 4 till 6. I quit night work when I was 33 - it was getting harder for me. I didn't want to do what others I knew were doing - finish work, send kids to school, go to sleep, pick kids up and then go back to work... My only advice is do not wait for employers to change their conditions (they won't). Change your life instead... YOU are in control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    I work rotating 12 hour shifts, 7 on, 7 off. In the first half of this year I've done eight 7 night shift weeks - sometimes with overtime this means I can do a 120 hour working week of nights.
    Like others have commented - no night shifts no job. As it is essential for some industries to have night shift cover does this research mean I get to claim when my health suffers? Of course not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    health and wellbeing of its populous and not the private profit they can make.
    Or am I an evil socialist for caring about the people?//

    No. Just hypocritical. So-called socialists actively encouraged immigration, saying we 'need' immigrants to do the job 'we' are too lazy to do, thus undermining wages and conditions of our poorest, and putting profit before people.

  • 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    People are in prison because they took drugs, why? because they are bad for your health. Cigarettes are taxed heavily and makers are banned from advertising, why?- same reasoning. But junk food and alcohol manufacturers get to sponsor sporting events and tempt children with free toys and it's fine to allow companies to shorten peoples lives by making them work nights. No consistency,

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    That's why night workers should earn a lot more than day workers. The hours are unsociable and puts pressure on relationships.
    Also have you tried getting home from work at 7 AM, getting settled in bed and someone up the road turns on their pneumatic drill or garden strimmer and doesn't turn it off again till 4 PM? It's OK to keep night workers awake all day. Try it the other way round!

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Talk about stating the obvious. Which is clearly why so many shift workers are paid so badly.

    I have been working shifts for 16 years now - it disrupts your health, social life and well-being enormously. Stop and I have no job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    What about those shift workers who have no choice? Bus workers and tube drivers, it's all apart of the job, no shifts no job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    58, inchindown

    Why do you insist that scientists are idiots?

    They are generally cleverish people doing some serious research - and yes they sometimes come up with answers that the rest of us might say was obvious. But that's the way of science.

    Maybe blame the reporting, cutting and pasting factoids into a news item, turning scientific data into bland data for the masses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    @58 If investigating the natural world, the universe and our place within it and reporting the findings makes one an idiot then I suppose scientists are idiots. The one thing that you could call scientists idiots for is working for very low pay with poor job security so people like you can live with modern conveniences such as electricity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    I suppose having an official survey / research carried out on the topic adds weight to `obvious' line of thought.
    Having worked shifts myself I know it DOES strain the body, also the tendency not to eat healthily ( as pointed out by others here ) compounds problems. Of course you get the exception that proves the rule, my father in law worked shifts all his life, and hes now 92

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    In the NHS there are far less staff on duty at night, but the workload is very often greater. 2 qualified nurses to a ward of 32 patients at night causes significant stress. This is just one example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    A year ago my 34 year old husband had a stroke right after a night shift. I don't think ti was connected (underlying unknown heart condition) but it did take us both a while to notice something was wrong (before he went unconscious) because he always feels rough after a night shift. It can't be avoided but his shift patterns have changed from 7 shifts in a row to 2.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    When are these idiot scientists going to stop telling us which stuff is going to kill us. It seems everyday there is another group of idiot scientists telling us something isn't good for us. To make matters worse, the media never tell the whole story. The concentrate on the headline figure without telling us what the figures mean in terms of the real word effects of any increased risk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Stress, Shifts,Poor diet are all killers, we know this yet we still want it all. When will people realise that quality of life is more important than how much 'stuff' you own. I was hoping the credit crunch would lead to a fundamental rethinking of people's priorities, Looks like it still needs to get worse before people say 'enough is enough, stop the 'merry go round'. I don't want this life' :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    If I were paid a much better rate to work shifts instead of fixed hours I would work shifts.

    Shifts are ok for workers who need money.

    They know they don't like the anti-social hours and leaves them as zombies, in dazes, tired, with poorer memory, in need of a drink but they do it for the money.

    Many other activities also kill (eg smoking, drinking, even skiing). So? We're all going to die.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    So the section of society most likely to have heart attacks (lowly paid working class), have more heart attacks.

    I'm shocked to discover this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Interesting, this should make employers sit up and take action.

    Just off to play hide and seek with the fairies at the bottom of the garden.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I worked 12hrs shifts for over 30yrs, more money than days. I noticed none of the Managers or Directors worked shifts, yet they all wanted you to works nights, weekends for the same money! 5yrs After retirement 50% of shift workers dead, bosses all still alive. Yet the coalition still want to attack workers rights, forced shifts, nights and weekends! Has Dave would say "we're all in it together"


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