Burnout boosts likelihood of atrial fibrillation

Burnout may increase a person’s risk of developing atrial fibrillation by as much as 20%, researchers reported this month in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Parveen K. Garg, MD, of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and colleagues surveyed more than 11,000 individuals for the study, tracking them over a period of 25 years for the development of AFib. The authors considered burnout “vital exhaustion” from prolonged stress at work or at home that goes unchecked.

“Vital exhaustion is associated with increased inflammation and heightened activation of the body’s physiologic stress response,” Garg said in a release. “When these two things are chronically triggered, that can have serious and damaging effects on the heart tissue, which could then eventually lead to the development of this arrhythmia.”

Garg et al. screened their study participants for the presence of vital exhaustion, anger, antidepressant use and poor social support. They didn’t establish any connections between AFib and anger, poor social support or use of antidepressants, but people with the highest recorded levels of vital exhaustion saw a 20% increased risk of developing AFib over the course of follow-up.

Garg said his team’s results stand in contrast to two previous studies that did find a link between antidepressant use and an increased risk of AFib. More research needs to be done on the subject, he said, especially so we can identify some concrete actions to help patients who are particularly exhausted or burned out.

“It is already known that exhaustion increases one’s risk for cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke,” Garg said. “We now report that it may also increase one’s risk for developing atrial fibrillation, a potentially serious cardiac arrhythmia. 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.”

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