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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Are 12 hour shifts bad for the heart?

A new study, reported on here at, has linked -- once again -- working too many hours with cardiac disease. Working overtime, as well as 10-12 hour shifts, have been, according to another study, linked with heart disease.

Most of us in the medical field work 12 hour shifts, and I know from personal experience at about the 8 hour mark pure exhaustion comes into play. By the time I get home, regardless of how busy I was during the day, I'm both physically and mentally exhausted.

Burnout is one of the major risks of working in the medical profession, and now we must think if this "burnout feeling" might be linked to stress that causes high blood pressure perhaps, and thus can lead to an ailing heart.

However, this study has some glaring holes in it. For one thing, the sample size is extremely small (less than 400). And it doesn't say how many 10-12 hours worked per week might lead to exhaustion or heart problems. So, considering most of us in the medical field work three 12 hour shifts, does this count? Is working only 12 hour shifts a week bad for the heart?

Or are they referring to 5 12 hour shifts, or 4, or 6, or 7 or...? Likewise, what kind of work is done? If I worked 12 hours and I basically sit there and watch a monitor for 12 hours, does that increase my risk for heart disease?

The answer is: we don't know.

Still, we should all be leery of this research, considering I've read more than one such study. To prevent heart disease, we all should eat well, exercise regularly, get plenty of rest (which includes days off and vacations) and see a doctor at least once a year.

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