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Unemployment and Job Loss Associated with Heart Attacks

Researchers from Duke University report that short instances of unemployment and multiple job losses can contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular events

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--by Nina Lincoff Man who's just been fired

The Gist

In today’s economic climate, job loss and periods of unemployment are more prevalent than one would like. To add insult to injury, it seems that finding a new job isn’t all the working population has to worry about. Unemployment status, multiple job losses, and short periods without work are significant risk factors for increased incidence of acute myocardial infarction (AMI). An AMI is an acute cardiovascular event, which in plain English means a heart attack.

Heart attacks occur when blood flow to the heart is cut off, and can result in tissue damage or death.  The common image of a heart attack victim is a man clutching his chest in intense pain. However, symptoms of a heart attack can be as minor as a cough, sweating, and dizziness, or they can escalate into a rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, and pain throughout the upper body and jaw. What is perhaps most alarming is that something like unemployment can be as much of a risk factor for heart attacks as smoking, diabetes, and hypertension.

The Expert Take

Research has shown that rates of cardiovascular disease are associated with employment status, said study author Matthew Dupre, Ph.D., in an email to Healthline.  “However it was unknown how lifetime employment instability may be associated with AMI at older ages,” said Dupre. Researchers examined the “different dimensions of job instability—being unemployed, having multiple job losses, and the amount of time spent unemployed” and the association with heart attack risk.

It seems logical that extended unemployment and multiple job losses would correspond with a higher incidence of AMI, but researchers were surprised “that the associations remained largely unchanged despite accounting for more than a dozen suspected risk factors,” said Dupre.

Although the study reports “unemployment status, multiple job losses, and short periods without work are all significant risk factors for acute cardiovascular events,” the specifics behind job loss weren’t identified. So, whether or not a worker left a job amicably or under more stressful circumstances is outside the scope of this study. “Additional studies are needed to address the context and circumstances of unemployment and how these may be sources of hardship, stress, and ultimately, increased heart attacks,” said Dupre. 

The Takeaway

Although the specifics behind unemployment and job loss can’t be accounted for by this study, the findings are rather straightforward: unemployment and multiple job losses put people at greater risk for acute cardiovascular events, such as a heart attack. A nine-to-five may not be the most appealing way to spend your days, but the alternative could put you at risk for a heart attack.

It also seems that the window for greatest risk of an AMI is during the first year of unemployment, and that afterwards, risk decreases. 

How unemployment could be conducted to mediate risk, both by the unemployed worker and by human resource and job search agencies, is still unknown.  It’s simply too early “to know what interventions or preventive measures may help reduce the excess risks attributable to unemployment,” said Dupre. 

Source & Method

The study, published online by the American Medical Association, observed an association between unemployment and the risk for an AMI in nearly 13,500 adults ages 51 to 75 enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study. Researchers conducted biennial follow-up interviews for an eighteen-year period, from 1992 to 2010. 

The median age of the participant pool was 62. During the course of follow-up, just over 1,000 AMI events occurred. Of those that experienced AMI events, 14 percent were unemployed, nearly 70 percent had one or more experiences of job loss, and 35 percent had at one time or another experienced unemployment. Participants were most at risk for an AMI during their first year of unemployment.

Other Research

Unemployment and job loss aren’t the only stressful instances that have been shown to increase the risk of an AMI. Researchers from Tulane University in New Orleans report that the stress endured during and after a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina, increases the risk of cardiovascular events.

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Tags: Awareness , Latest Studies & Research

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.

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