Work stress has always been associated with ill-health. Now, a team of management researchers and medical professors has found a correlation between job burnout and coronary heart disease [CHD].
Dr Sharon Toker of Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Management with her fellow researchers Profs. Samuel Melamed, Shlomo Berliner, David Zeltser and Itzhak Shpira of TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine have found that those in the top 20 per cent of the burnout scale have a 79 per cent increased risk of coronary disease. These results, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, are 'alarming' because they suggest that burnout is a stronger predictor of CHD than many other conventional risk factors like smoking, blood lipid levels, and physical activity.
Knowing that burnout has been associated with other heart health risks [higher levels of cholesterol or fat in the bloodstream] the researchers believed that it could also be a risk factor for coronary heart disease. They set about testing their belief by studying more than 8,838 apparently healthy working men and women aged 19 – 67. These individuals had routine health examinations for an average of 3.4 years. Each participant was measured for burnout levels and examined for signs of CHD. The researchers controlled for typical risk factors for the disease, such as gender, age, family history of heart disease, and smoking.
During the follow-ups, 93 new cases of CHD were observed. Burnout was linked to 40 per cent increased risk of CHD. But the 20 per cent of participants with the highest burnout scores had a 79 per cent increased risk. Dr Toker predicts that with a more extended follow-up period, the results would be even more dramatic.
These results are valuable for preventive health strategies. Healthcare providers who know that their patients are going through a burnout can keenly track sign of coronary heart disease developing.
Once burnout begins to develop, it can become a chronic condition very soon, Dr Toker warns. Employers should make sickness prevention a priority by promoting healthy and supportive work environments and keeping a watch for early warning signs of burnout. Simple diagnostic questionnaires that identify burnout are already available online. Employees can also make health a priority by making the right lifestyle choices, exercising more regularly, getting 7 – 8 hours sleep per night, and seeking psychological therapy if required.
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