Why Working Long Hours Can Cause Heart Problems

How many hours is too much? Here's the number and why overworking can be dangerous for your heart.

By Christa Sgobba

Spending too much time at the office? Your free time might not be the only thing drained: Working long hours can increase your chances of atrial fibrillation, a new study published in the European Heart Journal suggests.

After surveying more than 85,000 working adults on how many hours they worked each week, the researchers discovered that those who worked 55 or more hours a week were 42 percent more likely to be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation during the 10-year follow up than those working between 35 and 40 hours a week.

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Some people with atrial fibrillation, often referred to as “a-fib,” don’t have any symptoms. But those who do often report heart palpitations, or the feeling that your heart is racing or flip-flopping, weakness, fatigue, lightheadedness, or shortness of breath.

The researchers aren’t sure exactly how long hours can contribute to atrial fibrillation, but they believe that long work hours may mess with your automatic nervous system, raising your risk of atrial fibrillation. Stress-related issues, common with long work hours, may also trigger arrhythmia.

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It’s also possible that people who work long hours tend to have more traditional risk factors of a-fib—like obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, and higher alcohol use—but the prevalence of those factors was just slightly higher in those working longer hours.

Still, the absolute risk of a-fib in those working long hours is relatively modest, the study authors say. 

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