Burnout can break your heart, even 25 years later

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Burnout Is Now Officially a Medical Diagnosis

Lengthy study links vital exhaustion at work or home to heart irregularities

Feeling excessively tired, devoid of energy, demoralized and irritable can lead to a “potentially deadly heart rhythm disturbance,” according to a study published Monday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

“Vital exhaustion, commonly referred to as burnout syndrome, is typically caused by prolonged and profound stress at work or home,” said study author Dr. Parveen K. Garg of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “It differs from depression, which is characterised by low mood, guilt, and poor self-esteem. The results of our study further establish the harm that can be caused in people who suffer from exhaustion that goes unchecked.”

That harm is atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heartbeat.

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"It is estimated that 17 million people in Europe and 10 million people in the US will have this condition by next year, increasing their risk for heart attack, stroke, and death," the European Society of Cardiology wrote.

Garg and his team surveyed more than 11,000 people for vital exhaustion, anger, antidepressant use and poor social support, then followed those people for 25 years to check for atrial fibrillation.

“Participants with the highest levels of vital exhaustion were at a 20% higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation over the course of follow-up compared to those with little to no evidence of vital exhaustion,” ESC wrote.

According to Garg, there are likely two reasons for this.

“Vital exhaustion is associated with increased inflammation and heightened activation of the body’s physiologic stress response,” he 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.”

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No link was found between atrial fibrillation and anger, antidepressants or poor social support, however. Garg emphasized more work needs to be done on these correlations.

“It is already known that exhaustion increases one’s risk for cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke,” he said. “We now report that it may also increase one’s risk for developing atrial fibrillation, a potentially serious cardiac arrhythmia. The importance of avoiding exhaustion through careful attention to — and management of — personal stress levels as a way to help preserve overall cardiovascular health cannot be overstated.”

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