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Is your night shift fast tracking you to a heart attack?

New study shows that women who work night shifts may be at much higher risk of heart disease

A new study led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts has stated that women who work night shifts may be at much higher risk of heart disease.

The study, which looked at nurses who had worked rotating shift patterns and the medical histories of more than 189,000 women, found that 15 to 16 per cent were more likely to develop heart disease than women who managed to escape night shift duty.

This new study simply adds to the increasingly large body of evidence that suggests shift work, and especially night shifts, can have a very negative impact on your health. Shift work has been linked with breast cancer and other cancers by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organisation, and has also been connected to higher risks of diabetes and problems associated with sleep disruption.

Stomach problems, ulcers, obesity, depression and an increased risk of accidents or injury can also all be related to working in shift patterns. Some of the issues to do with night shifts and health risks are caused by the lifestyle encouraged by shift work, such as sleep problems and obesity, and others are related to our biology.

The Brigham and Women’s Hospital study found that nurses who had been working night shifts for longer than five years were most at risk of coronary heart disease. Celine Vetter, who led the study, said that the risk was statistically significant, but overall a small one, and the effects appear to wear off after a woman quits doing night shifts; however, this is not to suggest that we should ignore the impact shift work can have on people’s health.

Vetter’s study also found that the longer women worked night shifts, the more weight they gained. Furthermore, night shift-working women tended to be married to men with less education than those women working daytime schedules. They were also more likely to smoke, were less likely to have children, and on average used more painkillers than their daytime counterparts.

The study concluded that shift work may affect both social support and sleep function and that further research on sleep quality, timing and duration, in addition to hours worked, would appear to be warranted. Vetter also noted that while the study’s results are in line with other findings, there is very little information on the risks of different schedules, including work start and end times, which may carry different risks.

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