Does Job Burnout Increase Heart Attack Risk? Credit: Heart key image via Shutterstock

Employees who work to the brink of exhaustion run the risk of serious heart problems, new research shows.

A Tel Aviv University study has uncovered a link between job burnout — the physical, cognitive and emotional exhaustion that can result from stress at work — and coronary heart disease, which can lead to angina and heart attacks. Specifically, burned-out employees have a 40 percent greater risk of developing coronary heart disease, the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries.

As part of the study, researchers examined 8,838 apparently healthy, employed men and women between the ages of 19 and 67. Each employee in the study submitted to a routine health exam and then was tracked for an average of 3.4 years. Each worker was measured for burnout levels and examined for signs of coronary heart disease.

The researchers found that the employees in the top 20 percent of the burnout scale had a 79 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease. The study's author, Sharon Toker of Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Management, predicts that, with a more extended follow-up period, the results would be even more dramatic.

Overall, burnout proves to be a stronger predictor of coronary heart disease than many other classical risk factors, including smoking, blood lipid levels and physical activity.

Toker said the results provide valuable information for preventative medicine. Healthcare providers who know that their patients are experiencing burnout can closely monitor for signs of coronary heart disease. She said employers need to prioritize prevention by promoting healthy and supportive work environments and keeping watch for early warning signs of the condition.

In addition, Toker believes workers can contribute to prevention by making healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercising more regularly, getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night and seeking psychological therapy when necessary.

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