According to a new study, people with high-strain jobs are more likely to develop atrial fibrillation, which is a common heartbeat disorder that can significantly lead to stroke.
The Swedish study was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
The scientists define “high-strain jobs” as those that are psychologically demanding but give job-holders little control over the work situation.”
Examples include nursing, bus driving, and working on assembly lines.
It is not yet clear whether previous studies have created a link to atrial fibrillation (A-fib), but links have been established to coronary heart disease.
Study author Eleanor I. Fransson, an associate professor of epidemiology at Jönköping University in Sweden, said A-fib is a common condition with serious consequences and therefore it is of major public health importance to find ways of preventing it.”
A-fib and consequences
A-fib occurs when the upper two chambers of the heart (the atria) beat irregularly and interrupt blood flow to the lower two chambers called the ventricles. The condition can be temporary or permanent, but raises the risk of stroke. A person with A-fib has a four to five times higher risk of having a stroke than a person without it.
Apart from irregular heartbeat, people with A-fib might also experience: chest pain, extreme fatigue, breathlessness, feeling lightheaded, and palpitations. Some persons with A-fib may have no symptoms and not even realize that they have it.
Each year in the U.S., A-fib is responsible for over 750,000 hospital admissions and contributes to 130,000 deaths. Deaths in which A-fib is a contributory or primary cause have been increasing for the past 20 years.
The team of researchers used a measure of job strain that is based on the job demands-control model to assess work stress. It is one of the most widely studied models of work stress.
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It is based on the idea that the effect of job demands on the strain that people experience is “buffered” by the amount of control that they have over their work.
For their study, the researchers used a Swedish questionnaire based on the model. It comprises five items on job demands and six on control.
The questions ask, for example, whether the individual:
- has “to work very hard or very fast”
- experiences conflicting demands in the job
- has enough time to complete tasks
- has to complete lots of repetitive tasks
- is able to decide which tasks to do and how to do them
Link between job strain and A-fib
The scientists used data on 13,200 persons who constituted a representative sample of the working population of Sweden. They were recruited in 2006, 2008, and 2010 to participate in the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Survey of Health (SLOSH).
None of the participants had A-fib or a history of the disorder when they joined the study. Neither did they have a history of heart failure or heart attack.
They were all employed, and they all completed a battery of questionnaires when they entered the study. These were sent out by post and included the usual demographic questions plus others about health, lifestyle, and work.
The study followed the group for a median of 5.7 years. Using national registers, the researchers identified 145 cases of A-fib during this period.
Analysis of the SLOSH data — after adjusting for age, gender, and education — showed that job strain was linked to an almost 50 percent raised risk of A-fib.
The risk remained the same when the team further adjusted the results to take into account the effect of blood pressure, exercise, smoking, and body mass index.
Pattern ‘consistent’ with other data
The researchers carried out a further analysis in which the SLOSH data were combined with data from two other similar studies. This discovered that job strain was linked to a 37 percent higher risk of A-fib.
“Across studies,” states Prof. Fransson, “there was a consistent pattern of work stress being a risk factor for atrial fibrillation.”
She urges employees to see their doctor if they feel stressed due to work and experience palpitations or any other symptom of A-fib. She also added that such employees should discuss with their boss about improving their work situation.