This Type of Work Could Cause Heart Disease

By on January 20, 2015
For some of us, working a night shift is unavoidable–and the toll it takes on our physical and mental health isn’t pretty.

Now new research reported in the Journal of Preventive Medicine reveals that this type of work is even more dangerous for women.

According to the findings, which were reported this week, women who worked a night shift schedule for more than 5 years had a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or any cause in general. Worse yet, women who worked this shift for more than 15 years raised their risk of another deadly disease–lung cancer.

For researcher Eva S. Schernhammer, MD, DrPH, the findings just prove how damaging this type of shift work can be.

“[This study] is one of the largest prospective cohort studies worldwide with a high proportion of rotating night shift workers and long follow-up time,” says Schernhammer, who is currently an Associate Professor of Medicine and Associate Epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School. “A single occupation (nursing) provides more internal validity than a range of different occupational groups, where the association between shift work and disease outcomes could be confounded by occupational differences.”

For the study, researchers drew data from the Nurses’ Health Study, a study which examined health issues affecting over 100,000 nurses in the United States. This study specifically looked at how shift work, such as working during the night time, affected their risk of mortality or dying from cardiovascular disease, something found in the past to raise certain heart risks.

After finding how many women worked the night shift, researchers then split them into groups based on how long they worked this shift, ranging from 1 year to over 30 years. From here, they determined how many faced a higher risk of mortality from certain illnesses–and found that just working this shift for 5 years led to a higher risk of cardiovascular death.

And the longer they worked also determined something else: A higher risk of developing lung cancer.

“These results add to prior evidence of a potentially detrimental relation of rotating night shift work and health and longevity,” says Schernhammer. “To derive practical implications for shift workers and their health, the role of duration and intensity of rotating night shift work and the interplay of shift schedules with individual traits (e.g., chronotype) warrant further exploration.”

Unfortunately, just quitting a night job for more practical shift work isn’t always doable, say experts. Instead, this study should highlight the need for night shift workers to pay close attention to their health–whether that’s finding time to exercise more or avoiding certain habits that make cardiovascular disease worse, such as smoking.

“Hopefully that can minimize any fears that people may have,” says Schernhammer.

Readers: Do you work a hectic schedule? If so, how do you deal with it?

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