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Study Suggests Shift Work Bad For Women’s Hearts

Working rotating shifts may be hazardous to women’s hearts, a study suggests.

The study, in today’s issue of the American Heart Association journal Circulation, says women nurses who worked irregular shifts for more than six years were up to 70 percent more likely than co-workers to suffer a heart attack.

The study was done by a team at the Harvard Medical School and written by Dr. Ichiro Kawachi, an assistant professor of medicine.

“Shift work is a type of stress,” he said. “If you disrupt the body’s daily biological clock, the body responds by pouring out stress-related hormones … and these things generally do bad things for the body.”

Kawachi said “rotating night shifts also are associated with reduced job-related performance and higher levels of perceived stress.”

The study focused on nursing because it is one of the few professions in which a large number of women work night shifts.

In 1976, the Harvard team began tracking more than 121,000 female nurses, ages 30 to 55, who were free of diagnosed heart disease or stroke. In 1988, researchers asked them how many years they had worked rotating night shifts, which was defined as at least three night shifts each month in addition to day and evening shifts.

The overall risk of a heart attack was low for the entire group; for that reason, the 70 percent figure was considered a moderately higher risk.

The risk was highest among women who were still working rotating shifts; it dropped to 50 percent when women no longer doing shift work were added in.

That implies “that when you stop doing shift work, the risk might come down somewhat,” Kawachi said.

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