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There is no officially accepted definition for “burnout.” However, this syndrome is commonly described as work-related emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced job performance or ability. Workers with burnout are often cynical, frustrated, and feel drained from their work. Job burnout is most commonly found in professions that combine human services with high stress and emotional involvement. Professions most at risk for high levels of burnout include social work, nursing, teaching, lawyers, police work, physician assistants and physicians (especially in emergency medicine).1,2

In an early online edition of Psychosomatic Medicine, experts from Tel Aviv, Israel followed 8838 healthy employed adults for an average of nearly three and a half years to determine the relationship between burnout and the development of coronary heart disease. The Shirom-Melamed Burnout Measure, a previously validated questionnaire, was used to measure levels of burnout.  All participants were divided into fifths (quintiles) based on their level of burnout. Those with burnout levels in the upper fifth (upper quintile) had a 79% higher risk of developing heart disease compared to all other participants.

So what should workers with burnout do? First, see your doctor and make sure you minimize all cardiovascular risk factors (e.g. weight loss, stop smoking, control blood pressure and cholesterol, exercise). Next, work on reducing stress associated with your work and level of burnout.  Some tools that have been used to prevent burnout include group-staff discussions following stressful events (i.e. critical incident stress debriefing), improved autonomy and control among workers, rotating jobs plus responsibilities, and flexible work hours.

References

  1. Felton JS. Burnout as a clinical entity – its importance in health care workers. Occup Med 1998; 48: 237-250.
  2. Wyatt JP, Weber JE, Chudnofsky C. The work of the American emergency physician. J Accid Emerg Med 1998; 15: 170-174.

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