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Things do not seem to bode well for nurses who work rotating night shifts. Data has emerged to suggest that these individuals, nurses that have been working rotating night shifts for more than five years, stand a noticeably higher chance of suffering from heart disease.
According to a study published in JAMA, nurses that work rotating night shifts shouldn’t be surprised to find their health deteriorating over time. Night shifts have a tendency to disrupt the social and biological rhythms of an individual, with chronic ailments resulting as a consequence.
The National Sleep Foundation has crunched the numbers, producing a list of conditions that people who work shifts have been known to attract. The most prominent include obesity, metabolic disease, and even cancer. This isn’t even taking into account ulcers and depression - all these ailments arising as a result of the disruption in a given individual’s circadian rhythms.
This isn’t the first time researchers have attempted to draw a direct link between shift work and coronary heart disease and even cancer. While the data produced has been promising, previous studies into the issue have been inconsistent. The fact that they were so limited by short follow-up didn’t add any credence to them.
This most recent study can be imputed to the efforts of Celine Vetter from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. Celine and her colleagues examined coronary heart disease in a number of initially healthy women.
Under the Nurses’ Health Studies (NHS) carried out from 1988-2012 and 1989-2013, the women were closely followed up over two decades. The researchers were studying the lifetime history of rotating night shift workers. Over a hundred thousand women participated in the study. Among them, an estimated seven thousand reported incidents of coronary heart disease (CHD) during follow-up in the first NHS, with another three thousand incidents of CHD emerging in the second.
Some of those cases of CHD included heart attacks (all of them non-fatal), angiogram-confirmed angina pectoris, stent and angioplasty to mention but a few.
According to the results, the dangers of rotating night shift work emanate primarily from the issue of time. In other words, the longer a nurse spends working rotating night shifts, the higher their chances of encountering coronary heart disease.
Five years seems to be the benchmark in this case. Celine’s work corroborates previous studies which suggested that rotating night shift work that lasted less than five years was unlikely to impact the chances of contracting CHD.
The fact that night shift work that lasts longer than five years has been linked with a significant increase in the risk of CHD should cause concern among individuals working in professions that call for night shifts.
Though, it has been argued that this report shouldn’t be a cause for alarm; of those women who participated in the study, only 15% of them had spent more than five years working on rotating night shifts. More important, the chance of CHD has been shown to decrease among those individuals that stopped working rotating night shifts.
At the present, even the authors of the report admit that more work needs to be done to further explore the relationship between certain work hours and individual characteristics.