Long Work Hours May Lead to Hypertension
Mon, April 19, 2021

Long Work Hours May Lead to Hypertension

Going on overtime may help you catch up on your backlogs, but it can come at the expense of your health.

A study from the American Heart Association found that working long hours could lead to high blood pressure. The researchers added that overtime at the office increases the risk of developing "masked hypertension," a condition that isn't usually detected in annual check-ups.

"People should be aware that long work hours might affect their heart health and, if they’re working long hours, they should ask their doctors about checking their blood pressure over time with a wearable monitor," Xavier Trudel, the study's lead author from Laval University in Quebec, said in a statement.


Analyzing workers' blood pressure

The researchers looked into the data of 3,547 white-collar employees recruited for the study. They checked the participants' blood pressure in the first year of the study, the third year, and, lastly, in the fifth year.

The employees' blood pressure was measured three times in one morning. They also wore a blood pressure monitoring device that took readings every 15 minutes. A minimum of 20 additional blood pressure readings was collected for that day.

At the end of the analysis, the researchers found that 18.7% of the employees had sustained hypertension. That percentage includes participants who were already on anti-hypertensive medication, Reuters reports.

Results also show 13.5% had masked hypertension but were not taking high blood pressure treatments. The study defined hypertension as 140/90 mm/Hg or higher on rest reading and 135/85 mm/Hg on a workday.

Long hours of work increased the risk of high blood pressure significantly, the researchers concluded.

According to Reuters, working for 49 hours or more a week increases the chances of masked hypertension by 70% while 41 to 48 hours of work raises the risk to 51% compared to employees who spent less time at the office.

"Masked hypertension can affect someone for a long period of time and is associated, in the long term, with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” Trudel said.

“We have previously shown that over five years, about 1 out of 5 people with masked hypertension never showed high blood pressure in a clinical setting, potentially delaying diagnosis and treatment.”


Sustained hypertension

With an increased risk of hypertension, employees also become vulnerable to other conditions such as stroke, heart attack, or kidney disease.

When blood pressure is high throughout the day, the researchers said nine-to-five workers have a 66% greater risk of having sustained high blood pressure while a workweek of 41 to 48 hours increases the risk to 42%.

"Both masked and sustained high blood pressure are linked to higher cardiovascular disease risk," Trudel said, as per the Daily Mail. "The observed associations accounted for job strain, a work stressor defined as a combination of high work demands and low decision-making authority."

He noted, however, that other stressors may also attribute to the effect. Experts say stress, insufficient sleep, and lack of exercise are factors that contribute to added pressure stress on the body.

The Daily Mail reports Trudel noting that additional research is needed to examine whether family responsibilities—the number of children an employee has, household duties, and role in child care—might work with job circumstances to explain high blood pressure.

"People should be aware that long work hours might affect their heart health, and if they're working long hours, they should ask their doctors about checking their blood pressure over time with a wearable monitor," the lead researcher warned.


A good quick question

Increased risk of hypertension might be due to long hours of sitting, according to the University of Pittsburgh professor Matthew Muldoon in an interview with Reuters, adding that it's likely that people who work such long hours are not as active.

"Employers might want to offset long hours by giving breaks or encouraging physical activity during the day."

Based on the findings, people's work hours could be a good question for doctors to ask in guiding decision-making for monitoring blood pressure at home.

The finding stands after accounting for factors that might affect the risk of hypertension when the researchers analyzed the blood pressure data, including job strain, age, gender, education level, occupation, smoking habits, and body mass index (BMI).

However, the results may not apply for all types of workers—specifically blue-collar employees who are paid by the hour and perform manual labor work.

"Therefore, these findings may not reflect the impact on blood pressure of shift-work or positions with higher physical demands,” the authors said in a statement. "Other limitations include the study’s measurement of blood pressure only during daytime hours, and the omission of hours worked outside participants’ primary job."

Nevertheless, the study still holds significance since it had many volunteers, accounted for multiple factors that may affect blood pressure, repeated testing over several years, independence from workers' self-report blood pressure readings, and the use of the same monitors for all blood pressure measurements.