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Hospital study: Shift work boosts a woman’s risk of heart disease

This is an important piece to cite when you are negotiating over shift rotation policies, shifts differentials, mandatory overtime and other issues related to shift work for nurses at the negotiating table.

In the Media

OCT 23, 2011 – by Kathleen Blanchard

Hospital study: Shift work boosts a woman’s risk of heart disease

By Kathleen Blanchard.

Researchers recently discovered female shift workers and women who work 12 hours are likely to develop metabolic syndrome – a risk factor for heart disease. In the study, Canadian investigators found one in five female hospital workers on rotating shifts had at least 3 markers for heart disease from metabolic syndrome. The study, conducted by Dr. Joan Tranmer , suggests nurses trying to help their patients are putting their own health at risk. Tranmer also worked different shifts and said she embarked on the study because she was concerned about the health effect of shift work among the female employees she saw in the hospital. Tranmer studied 227 women, ranging in age between 22 and 66. Nurses, lab technicians and administrative assistance who worked different shifts were included. Tranmer assessed risk factors for metabolic syndrome among the women, which include high blood pressure, increased waist circumference, insulin resistance and high LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. One in five of the shift-workers had at least three risks for metabolic syndrome that raises the chance of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Women who worked 12 hour rotating shifts were at highest risk for developing heart disease. Age also factored into the chances of poor health for female shift-workers. Menopausal women over age 45 who rotated work hours for more than six years were found to have significantly higher rates of metabolic syndrome. Eight percent of female shift workers of less than six year duration had metabolic syndrome and 18 percent had the disorder that rotated shifts for 6 to 15 years. Seventy four percent of the women working shifts for more than 15 years had heart disease risk factors.

"Just how shift work contributes to the development of such risk factors isn’t clear," says Dr. Tranmer. "It is possible that the disruption of biological rhythms, sleeping, eating, and exercise patterns may be factors." Dr. Beth Abramson, a spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation said, "We spend so many of our hours and days at work, it is important for employers and employees to create as healthy a work environment as possible – especially for shift work.”

The current study, presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2011 , focused on women because past studies have been performed predominantly on men, Tranmer explained. Hopefully the study will lead to a change in hospital policies. It’s not unusual to be asked to come to work on a day off – as any nurse or other health care worker can attest to. Hospitals are often short staffed, leaving employees no moral choice but stay long hours and pitch in when co-workers are ill, late or have family emergencies. The study highlights the importance for female shift workers to take extra care to get exercise, adequate sleep and eat a healthy diet. The finding shows a large number of women who rotate shifts are at high risk for heart disease and other chronic illnesses.