Work Stress Is Associated With Heart Rhythm Disorder Risks, According To A New Study

Despite what headlines may tell you, millennials are feeling the weight of life particularly strongly. The mentality that millennials are a privileged, lazy group is commonplace in some circles, but the population is actually perhaps the most stressed of all. Despite advances in gender equality, tech, and medicine, Business Insider reports the generation of people born between 1981 and 1996 to be the most stressed of any. It is troublesome news when you consider the impact stress has on the psyche. But, the effects of stress don't stop at the brain. A new study that reveals stressful jobs may predispose one to heart rhythm disorders.

How does one determine a population's level of stress? Each year, the American Psychological Association conducts a survey on Stress in America. The 2015 results referenced by the aforementioned article in Business Insider notes some of the biggest takeaways. According to the 2015 report, stress has been linked to a number of psychological symptoms, including irritability, anxiety, and lack of motivation. Stress can lead people to seek out unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse. Further, women are more prone to it than men; the stress level gender gap has been steadily widening for more than a decade.

If that in in itself is not enough to put some fear into your heart, perhaps the knowledge stress can actually hurt the muscle will. A study published June 4 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology explains working a high-stress job can significantly increase one's risk of atrial fibrillation.

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The Mayo Clinic describes atrial fibrillation (or A Fib) as a defect that affects a person's cardiac rhythm. It causes a person's heartbeat to be irregular, and often rapid. The heart has four chambers: two ventricles, and two atria. Per the Mayo Clinic, during atrial fibrillation, the heart's two upper chambers (the atria) beat erratically, and out of sync with the two lower chambers (the ventricles). Ultimately this can lead to blood clots and even strokes. Twenty five percent of middle-aged adults in Europe and the United States will develop A Fib, per the study. Additionally, "10 million people currently suffer from atrial fibrillation, with 100,000–200,000 new-onset cases every year."

Being stressed at work, it would appear, could increase one's risk of developing A Fib by close to fifty percent (after adjusting for factors like age and sex).

The study examined 13,200 subjects enrolled into the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Survey of Health (SLOSH) in 2006, 2008, and 2010. Subjects were employed, and had zero history of atrial fibrillation, heart attack, or heart failure. At the study’s beginning, subjects completed surveys on factors like lifestyle, health, and work-related stressors, among others. Work stress was defined by researchers as “Job Strain.” This refers to jobs with high psychological demand couples with little control over the situation. Questions were included on job demands and perceived level of control.

During a follow-up, 145 cases of atrial fibrillation were identified.

Dr. Eleonor Fransson, one of the study's authors and an associate professor of epidemiology at the School of Health and Welfare of Jönköping University, calls this a public health issue, and implores employers to do more to make work as stress-free as possible. "Work stress has previously been linked with coronary heart disease. Work stress should be considered a modifiable risk factor for preventing atrial fibrillation and coronary heart disease. People who feel stressed at work and have palpitations or other symptoms of atrial fibrillation should see their doctor and speak to their employer about improving the situation at work," she explains.

She continues, "We need people to do these jobs but employers can help by making sure staff have the resources required to complete the assigned tasks. Bosses should schedule breaks and listen to employees' ideas on how the work itself and the work environment can be improved."

Dr. Fransson estimates employees with stressful jobs are almost 50 percent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than the general working population in Sweden. With a total population of over ten million, that statistic is quite serious — and no matter where you live, you should take note.