‘People working night shift more at risk of heart problems’


Angela Onwuzoo

A study by the European Society of Cardiology has found that people who work the night shift are at increased risk of developing heart problems.

The study revealed that people who work the night shift are at increased risk of developing irregular and often abnormally fast heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation.

Researchers in the new study published in the European Heart Journal said the study is the first to investigate the links between night shift work and Atrial Fibrillation. 

Using information from 283,657 people in the UK Biobank database, the researchers found that the longer and more frequently people worked night shifts over their lifetimes, the greater their risk of heart problems.

They found that people who currently worked night shifts on a usual or permanent basis had a 12 per cent increased risk of AF compared to people who only worked during the day. 

“The risk increased to 18 per cent after ten or more years for those who had a lifetime duration of night shifts. 

“Among people who worked an average of three to eight-night shifts a month for 10 years or more, the risk of AF increased to 22 per cent compared to daytime workers.

“Among participants currently working night shifts, or working night shifts for 10 or more years, or working a lifetime of three to eight night shifts a month, the risk of coronary heart disease increased by 22 per cent, 37 percent and 35 per cent respectively compared to daytime workers,” the researchers noted.

They evaluated the overall genetic risk based on 166 genetic variations known to be associated with the condition but found that the genetic risk levels did not affect the link between working night shifts and AF risk, regardless of whether participants had a low, medium, or high genetic risk.

The study, according to the researchers, included 286,353 people who were in paid employment or self-employed. 

Among the participants free of heart disease and stroke when they joined the study, 73,986 provided information on their employment history. During an average follow-up time of over ten years, there were 5,777 AF cases.

The research team, led by Prof. Yingli Lu, of Shanghai Ninth People’s Hospital and Shanghai JiaoTong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China, and Prof. Lu Qi, of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, New Orleans, USA, investigated whether genetic predisposition to AF could play a role in the increased risk. 

Prof. Lu said, “Although a study like this cannot show a causal link between night shifts and atrial fibrillation and heart disease, our results suggest that current and lifetime night shift work may increase the risk of these conditions.

“Our findings have public health implications for preventing atrial fibrillation. They suggest that reducing both the frequency and the duration of night shift work may be beneficial for the health of the heart and blood vessels.”

According to Prof. Qi, there were two more interesting findings. 

“We found that women were more susceptible to atrial fibrillation than men when working night shifts for more than ten years. Their risk increased significantly by 64 percent compared to day workers.

“People reporting an ideal amount of physical activity of 150 minutes a week or more of moderate-intensity, 75 minutes a week or more of vigorous-intensity, or an equivalent combination, had a lower risk of atrial fibrillation than those with non-ideal physical activity when exposed to a lifetime of night shift work. 

“Thus, women and less physically active people may benefit particularly from a reduction in night shift work”, Prof. Qi said.

An earlier 2021 study by Washington State University gave insight into the risk of night shift work, revealing that night shift workers are at increased risk of developing certain types of cancer compared to those who work regular daytime hours. 

The findings suggest that night shifts disrupt natural 24-hour rhythms in the activity of certain cancer-related genes, making night shift workers more vulnerable to DNA damage while also causing the body’s DNA repair mechanisms to be mistimed to deal with that damage.

“There has been mounting evidence that cancer is more prevalent in night shift workers, which led the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer to classify night shift work as a probable carcinogenic,” said co-corresponding author Shobhan Gaddameedhi, an associate professor formerly with the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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