Stressful jobs boost AFib risk by 48%

People who reported having stressful jobs were 48 percent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation (AFib), according to a Swedish study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Researchers looked at survey data from 13,200 employees free of heart disease at baseline who were asked about the level of demand at their jobs as well as perceived control over work situations. Jobs that were considered high demand but with low control were categorized as “high strain.”

Over a total follow-up of almost 80,000 person-years, 145 cases of incident AFib were identified. Individuals holding high strain jobs were found to be at 48 percent greater risk even after adjustment for age, sex and education.

“We need people to do these jobs but employers can help by making sure staff have the resources required to complete the assigned tasks,” lead author Eleonor Fransson, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology at Jönköping University, said in a press release. “Bosses should schedule breaks and listen to employees’ ideas on how the work itself and the work environment can be improved.”

AFib is the most common heart arrhythmia, affecting approximately 10 million people in Europe and accounting for between 100,000 and 200,000 new-onset cases each year, according to the researchers.

“It has been observed that occupational exposures, such as noise, night work, long working hours and work-related psychosocial factors, including work stress, are associated with coronary heart disease and stroke,” they wrote. “However, few studies have been undertaken to explore occupational exposures in relation to atrial fibrillation risk and, to our knowledge, only two studies have previously been published regarding work stress and atrial fibrillation.”

When pooling the results of their analysis with the other two studies—also conducted in Sweden—Fransson et al. found the risk of AFib was elevated by 37 percent among those with stressful jobs. They speculated that physiological responses to stress could lead to increased inflammation and higher blood pressure, which “may in turn contribute to atrial fibrosis and structural remodeling of the atrium.”

Fransson and colleagues said studies from other countries are needed to validate their findings, along with analyses with different measurements of job-related stress, such as effort-reward imbalance or job insecurity.