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Working long hours increases heart attack, stroke risk

/ 12:30 AM November 28, 2015

This is one of the ironies of earning a living in modern society. One works so hard, putting in more than the standard number of hours week after week, only to realize that it’s imposing a huge toll on his/her  health. And before he/she realizes it, he/she has  made himself/herself at high risk for a medical problem that could maim him/her for the rest of his/her life.

For some who are not fortunate enough to survive their folly, a fatal heart attack or stroke from their long unhealthy hours of work is their most painful lesson in life which they will never have a chance to learn and benefit from.

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Perhaps, John Donne have them in mind, too, when he wrote his famous lines: “For whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”  He was referring to the tolling of the bells at one’s funeral.

So if we have a second or a third job to augment our take-home pay monthly, we may have to reconsider our being so hardworking, for it may be more regrettably expensive at the end paying for all the hospital bills we would incur.

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Health hazards

A recently published study in the journal Lancet  reaffirmed the health hazards of working long hours. Done by Mika Kivimäki, Markus Jokela, Solja  Nyberg and several Scandinavian colleagues, the study showed that employees who work long hours (55 hours per week)  have a higher risk for stroke or heart attack than those working standard hours (35-40 hours per week). There appears to be a weaker but still significant association for heart attack risk.

Health experts have long warned that work stress and working long hours may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, the scientific literature is lacking in good data to prove this hypothesis. A few observational studies have shown though something like a 40-percent increased risk for CVD in employees working long hours compared with those working standard hours. However, these studies were criticized for several limitations which could have created bias in the results.

Systematic review

In the study, Kivimäki and colleagues aimed to determine whether long working hours are a risk factor for heart disease/heart attack and/or for stroke. They made a systematic review (meta-analysis) of all available, published and well-conducted researches.

The meta-analysis included 25 studies, which met the researchers’ criteria, done in Europe, the United States and Australia, involving 603,838 men and women who were initially free from coronary heart disease (CHD) and 528,908 men and women who were free from stroke at baseline.

With a mean follow-up of 8.5 years for the heart patients, and 7.2 years for the stroke patients, a total of 4,768 heart attacks and other heart-related events, and 1,722 stroke or brain-related events were recorded.

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Risk for CHD, stroke

The researchers reported a 13-percent significant increase in the risk for incident CHD, which was adjusted for age, gender and socioeconomic status and other factors that may have created bias on the results of the analysis.

A more significant 33-percent significant increase in the risk for stroke was likewise reported.

The researchers also reported a “dose-response” association of stroke and long working hours compared with standard working hours, meaning the longer the working hours, the higher the risk.

Recommendation

The authors recommended that physicians must identify patients who are working long hours and make sure their other risk factors like being overweight and having diabetes, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels are aggressively treated and controlled. Of course, for those who are smoking and heavy drinkers—which are  common among employees who work long hours—these have to be properly addressed. Smoking is definitely nonnegotiable; even just a few sticks a day can increase one’s cardiovascular risk. Moderate or social drinking may be allowed, so long as one observes the prescribed limits of one drink a day or one to two bottles of beer daily.

Most importantly, they have to be made to realize that working too hard is not worth it. Finding contentment and making do with what they can earn with reasonable hard work is the key to a happier, longer life.

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TAGS: column, health and science, Heart Attack, heart diseases, Rafael Castillo, stroke, work hours
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