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 132.

    Shiftwork my not be essential in some businesses but without shiftwork you would have no water, electricity, gas and most of the other important things needed by dayworkers to enable them sleep well at night.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    My husband a policeman died last year due to a heart attack and worked shifts for 30 years, I am positive that it was due to shift work. Also shift patterns were changed a lot during that time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    Have worked shifts for over twenty years,with quick turn rounds from nights to afternoons,over weekends, bank holidays , driving to and from work and my manager looks gone out if you refuse to work extra on your day off,All this with two yapping westies next door with owners unable to control them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    My husband did shift work for more than 20 years. The extra salary he got compared to the 'day shift' was about £5000 per year which is an insult. I am not at all surprised by this research - it stands to reason that years on interupted/lack of sleep will lead to health issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    126 The Realist

    The chance is that most of the claimants would be dead before they would see any compensation. But lawyers would do well out of it, a number of which become politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Perhaps we could make our friends the bankers work nights to reduce their numbers

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    If this is scientific fact then those companies should be compensating shift workers that survive the heart attacks. If that was put in place by law then we can finally say goodbye to the ridiculous 24/7 stress filled work culture the shareholders demand we take part in so they get an extra pound sterling!

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    As an ex-shift worker of 31 years,I am sad to say that many of my collegues are now either dead or very ill. We suspected for years that the shift working was partly responsible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Shift work and the high levels of stress in the office and other workplaces are arguably all unatural , and damaging to people's mental and physical health. But with mortgages to be paid etc, there seems to be little in the way of viable alternatives. Once stuck on the credit fuelled materialistic merry -go- round, it is dificult to get off.
    A. Crook

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Even in non-essential services, shift work is necessary. Try restarting machines designed for 24 hour operation without wasting time and material. Lack of social life means that when I become redundant, due to changes in processes, it will be much harder for me to get work through contacts as people on regular hours would. Interesting to see re-employment figures for shifts vs 9-5 redundancies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    "112. Rosetta
    You quite clearly hold the idea of everyone must work a full week or more for them to be thought of a productive.
    Go ahead, people like you are literally sucking the life out of people.
    It's a term know as parasitical enterprise."

    You quite clearly know nothing whatsoever about me or my opinions, but don't let that get in the way of a good prejudiced rant, eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    I've worked shifts for 20 years and days for 2 years and I have to say my health improved ten-fold while working days. The stress of shift-work is certainly under-assessed by employers and the financial return for working such hours does not compensate for the reduction in life expectancy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Stable relationships are proven to benefit health. Any shift worker will tell you that it is hard to maintain social contact with changing hours. I have seen several colleagues marriages break up largely due to work hours. It's not just the physical impact of shifts which harms, but the mental strains too.
    Shift premiums are paid for poor social life, lower life expectancy and increased stress.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.


    It's a term know as parasitical enterprise.

    A worker does a 40 hrs shift then 10 overtime.. He is then Mugged by the Socialist Tax Thefts Regime.
    The Money that's be Stolen is the dish into someone working 16 hrs a week + Benefits to top their wage up..
    Socialist Parasite application of the highest order..

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    There is some very strong evidence for the harmful effects of vitamin D deficiency. E.g Surely shift workers will have less exposure to sunlight and will be more prone to diseases e.g. high blood pressure, osteoporosis, arthritis, and cancer. If female their children will be more likely to be Vit D deficient. Supplements are cheap. 4000iu a day required.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Killing yourself to live. I guess some of the more myopic posters on the beeb site might like to wave a little flag whilst they're at it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    I don't understand the need for shifts. Instead of working hours here there and everywhere, Why not just ask for people to work 9 - 5, 5 - 12, 12 - 7 and so on? Then, there isn't any confusion about when the shift starts, ends and planning life around work is easier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    The 'entertainment' industry are some of the worst culprits here. I'ts low paid and you don't get any extra's for working unsociable hours because the 'entertainment' industry is a 24/7 job.

    Well thats what my daughters cinema boss told her. . . . . . . . . Hence, she no longer works there

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    have been doing shift work in the IT sector - 12 hour shifts 7pm to 7am / 7am to 7pm with the following pattern: 4 nights on, 4 nights off, 3 days on, 3 nights on, 4 days off, 4 days on, 6 days off since 1996 and have had zero health problems.
    And I love it...tons of time off and having no bosses about on nightshift ! :))

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    You'll find that employing more people leads to less unemployment, or are you just concerned with your bottom line?//

    You're wrong. If you just employ foreigners, you don't necessarily reduce unemployment, certainly in the long term. You just boost corporate profits, leave your own people on the dole, and impose a massive burden on the environment and services.


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