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Work stress may lead to irregular heart rate: Study

Having a stressful job may increase the risk developing a rapid and irregular heart rate, called atrial fibrillation, which can lead to strokes and premature death, according to a study.

The most stressful jobs are psychologically demanding but give employees little control over the work situation – for example, assembly line workers, bus drivers, secretaries, and nurses.

The study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that being stressed at work was associated with a 48 per cent higher risk of atrial fibrillation, after adjustment for age, sex, and education.

“We need people to do these jobs but employers can help by making sure staff have the resources required to complete the assigned tasks,” said Eleonor Fransson, an associate professor at Jonkoping University in Sweden.

“Bosses should schedule breaks and listen to employees’ ideas on how the work itself and the work environment can be improved,” said Fransson.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disorder (arrhythmia). Symptoms include palpitations, weakness, fatigue, feeling light headed, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

Atrial fibrillation causes 20-30 per cent of all strokes and increases the risk of dying prematurely, researchers said.

“Atrial fibrillation is a common condition with serious consequences and therefore it is of major public health importance to find ways of preventing it. Little is known about risk factors for the disease and especially the role of the work environment,” said Fransson.

The study included 13,200 participants enrolled into the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Survey of Health (SLOSH) in 2006, 2008, or 2010.

Work stress was defined as job strain, which refers to jobs with high psychological demands combined with low control over the work situation.

During a median follow-up of 5.7 years, 145 cases of atrial fibrillation were identified from national registers.

“In the general working population in Sweden, employees with stressful jobs were almost 50 per cent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation,” Fransson said.

“The estimated risk remained even after we took into account other factors such as smoking, leisure time physical activity, body mass index, and hypertension,” he said.

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