Can Shift Work Cause Heart Disease?

Posted on written by Sam Barton

The link between shift work and various health problems isn’t a new phenomenon.

Various studies have been carried out that claim to show a correlation between shift work (particularly night shift) and a number of health issues including cardiovascular problems. In fact, a study carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer advised that shift work could be a contributing factor in cancer diagnoses.

In this weeks’ blog, we are going to look at shift work, what problems can arise from doing these types of jobs and also if it can actually cause heart disease.

How many people do shift work?

In the last 5 years, the amount of workers in the UK that work night shift has increased by 260,000.

Over 5 million Britons are also estimated to work on different shift patterns. This represents a big percentage of the UK workforce and the logistics, manufacturing, healthcare and security sectors all see the biggest percentage of shift workers.

With this in mind, we must ask the question whether or not irregular working hours cause an impact on health but specifically can it cause heart disease?

Can it cause heart disease?

A recent analysis that was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health found that shift workers have a 17% higher risk of suffering a cardiovascular event than workers who don’t work on shift patterns.

The research used 18 different studies with a total of over 170,000 participants. Coronary heart disease affected 26% more people and the risk of death from heart disease saw a 20% increase.

The main reason for this is that working shift work will alter circadian rhythms and this can have an impact on the nervous system, metabolism and inflammation which can then lead to cardiovascular issues.

What other problems can result from shift work?

An irregular and unusual sleep pattern is one of the most obvious side effects of working shift work, particularly for those workers who operate on a night shift basis. This results in chronic fatigue and tiredness.

Poor mental health is also a regular symptom of shift workers with depression being found in workers who have disrupted sleep patterns and poor quality sleep overall.

Other conditions such as obesity and diabetes are often more prevalent in shift workers than non-shift workers.

Shift work and health and safety

Heart disease isn’t the only medical condition that has been found to impact workers who work on a shift basis predominately at night. Many other health conditions are often a result of irregular working hours.

While other lifestyle factors need to be taken into consideration it is clear that there is a link between shift workers and poor health in general with heart disease being one of the main results.

Employers have a duty to ensure that their workers are kept safe at work and the HSE has guidance on managing shift workers to limit this potential detrimental impact on their health.

Can Shift Work Cause Heart Disease? - Blog from Project Skills Solutions - health and safety - IOSH courses

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