FEELING exhausted, lacking energy and irritable?
Turns out you might have burnout – a syndrome that could increase your risk of a deadly stroke, doctors warn.
That's the warning from heart experts who said stress at work and home can prove a killer.
Doctors at the University of Southern California in LA said burnout increases the risk of a condition called atrial fibrillation (AF) by 20 per cent.
It's the most common form of heart arrhythmia – or irregular heartbeat – and is estimated 17million people in Europe and 10million in the US will be diagnosed in the next year.
The condition can prove deadly, increasing the risk of suffering a stroke and heart failure.
Exhaustion bad for the heart
Yet, what causes atrial fibrillation isn't fully understood.
In the past, studies have suggested psychological distress could cause atrial fibrillation.
But until now doctors have not considered the role extreme exhaustion might play.
Dr Parveen Garg, who led the study, said: "Vital exhaustion, commonly referred to as burnout syndrome, is typically caused by prolonged and profound stress at work or home.
"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."
Dr Garg's team examined the medical records of more than 11,000 people – looking for the presence of vital exhaustion, anger, antidepressant use and poor social support.
They then followed them for 25 years to see if they developed atrial fibrillation.
The team found people with the highest levels of vital exhaustion were at 20 per cent higher risk of atrial fibrillation, compared to those who showed almost no signs at all of burnout.
More work to be done
More research is needed, but Dr Garg said two things are likely to be at play.
"Vital exhaustion is associated with increased inflammation and heightened activation of the body's physiologic stress response," he explained.
"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."
Dr Garg noted past studies had found links between antidepressant use and a greater risk of AF.
But he said their findings, published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, didn't reflect that link.
Nor did their results link anger or a lack of social support with the deadly condition – a finding in line with past research.
"Clearly more work still needs to be done," he added.
What is atrial fibrillation?
ATRIAL fibrilliation is a heart condition that causes an irregular heart beat.
A normal heart rate should be between 60 and100 beats a minute, while you're resting.
You can measure it by feeling the pulse in your neck or wrist.
In people with atrial fibrillation, their heart rate is irregular – often much faster than 100 beats a minute.
It can cause symptoms including:
- shortness of breath
- noticeable heart palpitations – where it feels like it's pounding or fluttering
In some cases there are no symptoms, so it's important to see your GP if you are worried, or do notice any signs.
"It is already known that exhaustion increases one's risk for cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke.
"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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