Burnt-out employees have a dramatically increased risk of heart disease, Tel Aviv University researchers have found.
As they try to meet their demanding careers, many workers experience job burnout — physical, cognitive, and emotional exhaustion that results from stress at work.
Researchers have found that burnout is also associated with obesity, insomnia, and anxiety.
Now, Dr. Sharon Toker of TAU's Faculty of Management and her fellow researchers — Profs. Samuel Melamed, Shlomo Berliner, David Zeltser and Itzhak Shpira of TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine — have found a link between job burnout and coronary heart disease (CHD), the buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries that leads to angina or heart attacks.
Those who were identified as being in the top 20% of the burnout scale were found to have a 79% increased risk of coronary disease, the researchers said.
Calling the results "alarming," Dr. Toker said that these findings were more extreme than the researchers had expected — and make burnout a stronger predictor of CHD than many other classical risk factors, including smoking, blood lipid levels, and physical activity.
Some of the factors that contribute to burnout are common experiences in the workplace, including high stress, heavy workload, a lack of control over job situations, a lack of emotional support, and long work hours. This leads to physical wear and tear, which will eventually weaken the body.
Knowing that burnout has been associated with other cardiovascular risk factors, such as heightened amounts of cholesterol or fat in the bloodstream, the researchers hypothesized that it could also be a risk factor for coronary heart disease.
Over the course of the study, a total of 8,838 apparently healthy employed men and women between the ages of 19 and 67 who presented for routine health examinations were followed 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 sex, age, family history of heart disease, and smoking.
During the follow-up period, 93 new cases of CHD were identified. Burnout was associated with a 40 percent increased risk of developing CHD. But the 20% of participants with the highest burnout scores had a 79 percent 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 preventative medicine, noted Dr. Toker.
Healthcare providers who know that their patients are experiencing burnout can closely monitor for signs of coronary heart disease as well, she added.
Workers can contribute to prevention by making healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercising more regularly, getting seven to eight hours sleep per night, and seeking psychological therapy if required, she added.
The researchers reported their findings in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.