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Long working hours boost heart disease risk, research shows

GPs should add working hours to heart disease risk assessment

Caroline White

Tuesday, 05 April 2011

Those who work more than 11 hours a day run an almost 70% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, compared with those who stick to a standard 7 to 8 hour day, shows research published in the  Annals of Internal Medicine.

GPs should ask patients about their work life balance when calculating their risk of heart disease, using other health measures such as blood pressure, diabetes and smoking habits, suggest the authors.

The research used data from the Whitehall II study, which has been tracking the health and wellbeing of over 10,000 civil service employees since 1985.

This study included 7095 full time employees (2109 women and 4986 men) between the ages of 39 to 62, none of whom had heart disease at the start of the study (1991-3).

The researchers collected information on heart risk factors, such as age, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking habits, and diabetes. And they asked participants how many hours they worked in the office and at home on an average week day.

During the monitoring period up to 2004, the researchers tracked participants’ heart health from five yearly medical screenings, hospital data, and health records.

During that time 192 participants developed heart disease. After adjustment for their Framingham risk score, those working 11 hours or more a day were 67% more likely to develop heart disease compared with those working standard hours.

Adding working hours to the normal risk assessment measures of risk of heart disease improved predictive ability by 5%.

Lead author, Professor Kivimäki of UCL Epidemiology & Public Health, said: "We have shown that working long days is associated with a remarkable increase in risk of heart disease.

Considering that including a measurement of working hours in a GP interview is so simple and useful, our research presents a strong case that it should become standard practice.

This new information should help improve decisions regarding medication for heart disease. It could also be a wake-up call for people who overwork, especially if they already have other risk factors."

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