Burnout may increase risk of irregular heartbeat, leading to heart failure: Study
After over 25 years, the researchers observed that participants showing the highest levels of burnout had a 20% higher risk of developing irregular heartbeat than those with little to no evidence of the condition.
People showing signs of burning out may have episodes of a potentially serious condition: irregular heartbeat, according to a new study. The findings suggest that the effects of burnout go far beyond low work productivity and poor mental health.
"People who have this condition are at an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and death. Perhaps most importantly is that, despite much investigation, our understanding of what causes the condition remains incomplete," study author Dr Parveen K Garg of the University of Southern California Los Angeles, tells MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).
The burnout syndrome, according to Dr Garg, is typically caused by prolonged and profound stress at work or home. "It differs from depression, which is characterized by low mood, guilt, and poor self-esteem. The results of our study further establish the harm that can be caused in people who suffer from exhaustion that goes unchecked," Garg adds.
In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout as a syndrome in their latest handbook: the International Classification of Diseases manual. The handbook, which helps medical providers diagnose diseases, describes the condition as a syndrome "resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. Burnout has three elements: feelings of exhaustion, mental detachment from one’s job and poorer performance at work, says WHO.
Irregular heartbeat or atrial fibrillation is the most common form of heart arrhythmia or heart rhythm disturbance. According to estimates, around 10 million people in the US and 17 million people in Europe will have this condition by next year.
In the current study, Dr Garg and his team wanted to see if there was any specific association between burnout and irregular heartbeat. So they carried out a long-term study, surveying more than 11,000 individuals over a period of nearly 25 years. The participants were tested for the presence of vital exhaustion, anger, antidepressant use, and poor social support. Later, the team checked to see if the participants developed irregular heartbeat during follow-ups.
After over 25 years, the researchers observed that participants showing highest levels of burnout had a 20% higher risk of developing irregular heartbeat — atrial fibrillation in particular — than those with little to no evidence of the condition.
The team is yet to figure out why burnout could cause an irregular heartbeat. But they speculate that the body's immune response and heightened stress response are at play, both of which may have serious and damaging effects on the heart, leading to irregular heartbeat.
The main limitation of the study is that it is an observational one, which means the study does not provide clear evidence to show that burnout is increasing the risk of irregular heartbeat. "Further studies need to be done before we can translate this into something that is meaningful clinically or actionable on the part of physicians," explains Garg.
However, based on the evidence, the link between burnout and the condition cannot be ignored. As a result, stress management is crucial to preserving both mind and heart health, says Garg. He adds, "The importance of avoiding exhaustion through careful attention to — and management of — personal stress levels as a way to help preserve overall cardiovascular health cannot be overstated."
The study has been published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.