Job Loss Linked to Increased Risk of Heart Attack

Losing a job can be one of the most stressful experiences a person will have to deal with. It is not just the initial shock and shame that people feel when becoming unemployed; it is also the strife that follows, such as financial problems, boredom and continuous worry.

In fact, the effect of losing a job is so severe that it can lead to an increased risk of suffering from a heart attack, according to the findings of a new study. The study found that unemployment in a person’s 50s and 60s can increase the risk of having a heart attack to the same level as that of a long term smoker.

Link studied between employment and health

The in-depth study involved more than 13,000 participants over almost 20 years between 1992 and 2010. The participants were aged between 51 and 75 throughout the duration of the study, and consisted of both men and women. The study, which was commissioned in part by the National Institute of Aging, surveyed participants every two years on a number of factors relating to their health and employment. Over that time, the participants suffered more than 1,000 heart attacks between them. These heart attacks, along with the sufferer’s job and health history, were studied extensively; the results found that the chance of a person suffering a heart attack increased by around 25 percent in the first year of unemployment. This probability increased with each consecutive year the person found themselves unemployed.

Cause of job loss “important”

This risk was thought to be more apparent for those that had either been given the sack or been made redundant. However, the study did not contain details of the reasons behind peoples’ unemployment. Many critics and academics have argued that it is important to establish the reason for job loss, as it is widely believed that the risk of stress or heart problems would be lower in those that had chosen to give up work voluntarily. “There probably are differences in consequences of job loss when it’s voluntary or more or less expected”, said Sarah Burgard, a University of Michigan researcher who has extensively studied the relationship between job loss and health. Burgard said that the initial and sudden shock of losing a job involuntarily would almost certainly increase a person’s stress levels. Retirement was not counted as unemployment in this study.

Almost 70 percent of the people studied had lost a job at some point, or had experienced a period of unemployment in between jobs. More than 10 percent had experienced four or more job losses before and / or during the study period. The study, which will appear in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that those that had lost four or more jobs were 60 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack than those that had not experienced any job loss. There was no apparent difference between genders; both men and women were found to be at equal risk of the effects of job loss.

Other contributing factors

The study also mentioned the significance of factors such as alcohol and drug use, smoking, obesity and physical inactivity in the risk of heart attack. Those that smoked, drunk or had taken significant amounts of drugs either recently or earlier on in life were more likely to have a heart attack than those who had not. Drug, alcohol and tobacco misuse has long been associated with increased risk of heart problems; drug abuse can lead to higher blood pressure, which is a significant contributory factor. These days, there are many alcohol and drug support groups in New York that can help people overcome addiction. However, those suffering from in previous decades did not have the range of facilities and drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation programmes available to them, therefore were more at risk from health complications such as heart attacks.

Overall, the study concluded that although there was an apparent link between the two, the odds of having a heart attack as a direct result of losing a job were still relatively low. The study also noted that those surveyed were already facing increased risks of suffering from a heart attack due to other factors such as lack of exercise and obesity.

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