- According to a new study, chronic stress or burnout can cause cardiac arrhythmia.
- The study tracked the medical history of over 11,000 people who had classified themselves as “very stressed” 23 years earlier
- Atrial fibrillation can lead to stroke and heart failure. Other risk factors are old age, obesity or high blood pressure.
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We know that burnout has harmful effects on personal life and mental health. However, a new study found evidence that physical health could also be affected.
The study, which was published in the “European Journal of Preventive Cardiology”, is based on data from 11,445 participants in an atherosclerosis study that was carried out in 1990-1992.
Data from more than 11,000 participants was available to the researchers
At that time, the participants were asked to use questionnaires to describe their personal exhaustion. Scientists then divided the results into three categories: vegetative symptoms (such as fatigue), non-vegetative symptoms (such as crying) and symptoms of highly functional depression (such as an urge to be productive).
The heart rates of the participants, who were all normal at the time of the study, were also measured.
The results were divided into four groups, with the fourth group consisting of the people who felt most stressed.
23 years later, study author Parveen K. Garg from the University of California and his team went through the medical files of these participants again. All electrocardiograms, hospital stays and death certificates were examined to find out how the most stressed people had fared. They found that 2,200 participants (19.4 percent) had developed heart rhythm disorders.
“This is the first study to look at the risks of increased stress levels,” says Garg. “We found that people who described themselves as particularly exhausted had a 20 percent higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation.”
In this context, “being exhausted” means more than just having to take a restful sleep. Rather, we talk about chronic stress in everyday life, be it at home or at work.
Atrial fibrillation can lead to stroke and heart failure
Atrial fibrillation feels like the heart is beating slowly or uncontrollably. This can increase the risk of stroke or heart failure.
In America alone, between 2.7 and 6.1 million people live with atrial fibrillation. It happens so often that almost half of the reasons for this are still unknown. However, risk factors such as old age, high blood pressure and obesity are known.
Previous studies had found that outbursts of anger and hostility were also associated with cardiac arrhythmia – at least in men. Nothing was found in the current study, nor in the case of other supposed risk factors such as taking antidepressants or the lack of a stable social environment.
Burnout or a high level of stress are very dangerous. Garg said in a press release that chronically triggered stress responses in the body can have harmful effects on heart tissue. This in turn could lead to the development of an irregular heartbeat.
The study is also interesting because 25 percent of all participants were African American – most European studies are usually based solely on data from white participants.
Cardiologist Andrew Goldsweig was not surprised when asked by insiders about the study. “It is important to recognize that psychosocial factors such as fatigue are as important as traditional risk factors when it comes to atrial fibrillation.”
There will be more studies on burnout in the future
He predicts a lot of studies on future burnout; that is currently a big topic in medical circles. According to a report, at least half of all American medical workers are already struggling with burnout syndromes, so it’s no wonder that more research is now being done in the area. In addition, there is more and more reliable data on the effects of chronic fatigue.
More about burnout: The real cause of burnout is not stress and overexertion, says a renowned psychiatrist
For Garg, the current study confirms the importance of preventing chronic fatigue through stress management. “You cannot overstate the focus on a healthy cardiovascular system.”