Working long hours dramatically increases the risk of suffering a fatal heart attack by up to 60 per cent, a study has found.
People who regularly do overtime – shifts longer than a seven-hour day – are more prone to heart disease, angina and heart attacks.
Those who work between three and four hours extra a day are most at risk – just one or two hours more had no effect.
The study tracked 6,000 British civil servants aged between 39 and 61 for an average of 11 years.
Overall, there were 369 cases of people suffering heart disease that caused death, had a heart attack or developed angina, says a report published online in the European Heart Journal.
Working overtime was linked to a 56 per cent to 60 per cent increased risk.
Study leader Marianna Virtanen, an epidemiologist at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki and University College London, said factors such as smoking, being overweight or having high cholesterol could not explain the extra risk.
‘More research is needed before we can be confident overtime work would cause heart disease,’ she added.
She said possible reasons for the raised risk include undiagnosed high blood pressure, stress, anxiety or depression and being a ‘Type A’ personality who is highly driven, aggressive or irritable.
Employees who work overtime may also be likely to work while ill, the experts said.
Similarly, those who get too little sleep or have ‘insufficient time’ for winding down after work may also be at higher risk.
Professor Gordon McInnes, of Glasgow University’s Western Infirmary, said the findings had significant implications.
He added: ‘If the effect is truly causal, the importance is much greater than commonly recognised.
‘Overtime-induced work stress might contribute to a substantial proportion of cardiovascular disease.
‘Doctors should pay attention to the hours worked by patients who have symptoms such as chest pain and they may need closer monitoring.’
Cathy Ross, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, said: ‘Although the researchers showed a link, the reasons weren’t clear.
‘The researchers suggest a number of reasons – these may affect the mechanisms that cause heart disease.
‘But it could simply be that working long hours means we’ve less time to look after ourselves.
‘If we’re stuck in the office we’ve less time to relax, get a good night’s sleep, and take enough physical activity, all of which have been found to help reduce stress levels and protect against heart disease.’
She added: ‘Until researchers understand how our working lives can affect the risk to our heart health, there are simple ways to look after your heart health at work.
‘These include taking a brisk walk at lunch, taking the stairs instead of the lift, or by swapping that biscuit for a piece of fruit.’
NUGGET : The £12,000 device has the same kind of effect as a traditional defibrillator used to shock hearts into starting after they have failed
A breakthrough device just an inch and a half in diameter could save the lives of thousands of Britons at risk of dying from cardiac arrest.
People who suffer from life-threatening disturbances to their heartbeat – known as arrythmia – could now be given the Subcutaneous Implantable Defibrillator, or S-ICD, after it was found to be a major success in clinical trials.
The £12,000 defibrillator is implanted under the skin and delivers a shock if the rhythm of the heart is disturbed, to get it back to the regular beat.
The 1.5″ system delivers a bigger kick-start to the heart than conventional devices in response to life-threatening rhythm disturbances.
And it also offers new hope to sufferers as previous devices had the risk of complications from infection from the leads which connect them to the heart.
Around 70,000 people every year die in the UK from sudden cardiac death caused by arrhythmia, a disturbance or irregularity of the heartbeat.
Implanted defibrillators provide round-the-clock protection for hundreds of thousands of patients with heart problems, with at least 30,000 implanted in the UK, but many more go untreated.
Dr Andrew Grace, consultant cardiologist at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, who helped develop and test S-ICD, said it was a major advance.
He said ‘This could completely change the use of implantable defibrillators.
‘At present the potential complications are a barrier. Some patients turn them down, and some of them do die as a result of rhythm disturbances that could have been detected and treated with an internal device.’
The new battery-operated S-ICD system has just one wire going across the chest under the skin, connected to the device implanted beneath the skin on the side which contains the electronic components to deliver the shock.
The added distance from the heart means a more powerful shock can be delivered than from conventional devices – about 2.5 times stronger.
It also means the S-ICD is less likely to pick up electrical ‘noise’ from the heart which can trigger unnecessary shocks, known as false positives, which can be ‘traumatising’ for patients.
The breakthrough by an international team of researchers is reported today in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.
The findings from three clinical trials show the Subcutaneous Implantable Defibrillator (S-ICD) detected and successfully treated all 12 episodes of severe rhythm disturbance over a 10-month period.
Conventional ICDs require placement of at least one lead in the heart – usually threaded through a vein – which sense dangerous changes in heart rhythm and deliver a lifesaving shock.
But the leads on these devices may cause infections in patients who then need treatment or even further surgery to remove them, said Dr Grace.
‘This deters some patients from having them implanted, and may mean doctors are less willing to recommend them’ he added.
The clinical trial data shows the S-ICD is as effective as conventional devices at delivering electrical impulses to restore normal rhythm in almost all episodes of induced disturbances.
The S-ICD also successfully detected all 12 episodes of ventricular tachyarrhythmia in 55 patients using it in a ‘real-life’ trial.
There were two minor infections over the 10-month trial period.
The journal report says S-ICD could overcome some of the complications and lead failure caused by conventional devices.
‘These benefits would be especially important for young patients, in whom leads may fail during the decades that therapy is needed’ it says.
Made by US-based Cameron Health, the S-ICD lasts around five years before replacement is necessary.
Dr Grace has started using S-ICD for patients at high risk, including young people with a family history of sudden cardiac death.
Previous research suggests they are 98 per cent effective at preventing sudden death, with drug treatment being far less benefical.
Dr Grace said NHS guidelines recommend their use in around 6,000 patients a year, yet only 4,000 were getting them.
‘The number who could benefit is much, much higher than this. The question is where do you draw the line?
‘If there is a low-risk device available then it’s likely we’ll eventually be treating many more patients who are at risk of sudden cardiac death but don’t currently fit the criteria for an implantable defibrillator’ he said.
A spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down.
Giving sweet substances to children before a vaccination jab means they experience less pain and are more comfortable, a study has found.
Medical staff are being urged to consider giving babies a sweet drink of either sugar or glucose before immunising them because it gives an ‘improved reaction’ to injections.
An international team of researchers collected results from 14 trials involving almost 2,000 babies aged one year and younger.
They found that giving babies a small amount of sweet solution, compared to water or no treatment, decreased crying in 93 per cent of cases.
Senior nurse Denise Harrison, from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and one of the authors of the study, said the research had not revealed an ideal dose but added: ‘Healthcare professionals responsible for administering immunisations should consider using sucrose or glucose during painful procedures.’
However, researchers from Melbourne, Australia, said the painkilling effects of sweet solutions given to older infants were more moderate than those in newborn infants.
The study was published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.