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Regular night shift work may lead to A-fib, other heart problems

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Shanghai — Night shift workers may be at increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation – an abnormal heart rhythm that can trigger serious health issues – as well as coronary heart disease, according to a recent study led by researchers at Jiao Tong University and Tulane University.

The researchers used UK Biobank data for nearly 284,000 participants, with an average follow-up time of about 10 years. Findings show that individuals who worked night shifts on a usual or permanent basis had a 12% higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation than counterparts who worked solely during the day.

For the participants who worked night shifts throughout their career, the increased risk was even higher – 18% – compared with day workers, and greater still – 22% – for individuals who worked an average of three to eight night shifts a month for at least a decade.

Additionally, study co-author Lu Qi, director of the Obesity Research Center at Tulane, said in a press release: “Women were more susceptible to atrial fibrillation than men when working night shifts for more than 10 years. Their risk increased significantly by 64% compared to day workers.”

Qi continued: “People reporting an ideal amount of physical activity of 150 minutes a week or more of moderate intensity, 75 minutes a week or more of vigorous intensity, or an equivalent combination had a lower risk of atrial fibrillation than those with non-ideal physical activity when exposed to a lifetime of night shift work.”

The researchers also identified an association between night shift work and coronary heart disease. Participants performing current night shift work (22%), individuals working night shifts for at least 10 years (37%) and those who averaged three to eight night shifts a month during their career (35%) were each shown to have increased risk of developing the disease compared with dayside workers.


“Although a study like this cannot show a causal link between night shifts and atrial fibrillation and heart disease, our results suggest that current and lifetime night shift work may increase the risk of these conditions,” co-author Yingli Lu of the Jiao Tong University School of Medicine said in the release. “Our findings have public health implications for preventing atrial fibrillation. They suggest that reducing both the frequency and the duration of night shift work may be beneficial for the health of the heart and blood vessels.”

The study was published online Aug. 10 in the European Heart Journal.

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