At least 2.7 million Americans are affected by the most common variety of irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation (AFib). Now, new research has found that there may be a link between burnout, a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive stress oftentimes from work, and the risk of developing AFib.
For the study, researchers from the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine recruited over 11,000 men and women over 25 years who, at the beginning of the study, did not have the condition. Over the study period, the researchers checked on each participant five times to evaluate their anger, levels of exhaustion, quality of social support and usage of antidepressants, and then compared these evaluations to their health records over the same period.
In the end, they found that 20.7% of those reporting the highest levels of burnout developed AFib at some point in their lives, with 18.2% of those with the lowest levels of burnout reporting the same. Meanwhile, they found no correlation between their reported levels of anger, their usage of antidepressants and the quality of social support they received in their chances of developing the condition.
So how may burnout lead to AFib? In their paper, the researchers noted that burnout is associated with inflammation, something that can activate the body’s physiological stress response, and thus result in physiological issues. Lead author of the study, Dr. Parveen K. Garg said, “When these two things are chronically triggered that can have serious and damaging effects on the heart tissue, which could then eventually lead to the development of this arrhythmia.”
He continued, "The findings for anger and social support are consistent with prior research, but two previous studies did find a significant association between antidepressant use and an increased risk of atrial fibrillation."
With this study having shown a mild correlation between burnout and AFib, more research is needed before a relationship may be properly established between the two. Dr Nicholas Skiptaris, director of cardiac electrophysiology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, recommended that further research could investigate whether “increased levels of inflammatory markers and increased stress somehow changes the electrical system of the heart to cause you to have AFib.”