February was American Heart Month and it’s always a good reminder for individuals to focus on their hearts. New research suggests that if you’re feeling chronic stress and burnout, otherwise known as mental and physical exhaustion, you could be at a higher risk for Atrial fibrillation (also known as AFib). AFib is the most common heart rhythm disorder and leading cause of stroke in the U.S. and Europe, affecting more than 33 million people worldwide.
Studies in the past have linked stress, obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking as prime risk factors of other heart disease, but this new study is the first to really link exhaustion to potentially increasing one’s risk for a cardiac arrhythmia.
According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of American workers say they feel stress on the job, and half of those say they need help with managing stress. But it’s more than work – it’s the 24-hour news cycle, the constant connection to social media, and a race to be the best at what you do, both at home and at work. Burnout and fatigue can be any type of stressor, not just work, but personal stress or home/family tension, affecting anyone who is chronically stressed and who suffers from chronic exhaustion.
When it comes to AFib, past study results have been mixed. Some studies have shown a link between AFib and anger or post-traumatic stress syndrome, while others suggest depression and other psychosocial impacts are a result of having the condition rather than a cause of it. In this recent study, people who scored the highest in “vital exhaustion” were more likely to develop AFib. It’s associated with increased inflammation and increased activation of the body’s physiologic stress response. When these two things are chronically activated, they can have serious and damaging effects on the heart tissue, which could eventually lead to this arrhythmia.
The current study is a preliminary, first-step evaluation that needs more research. However, the main take-home message is that high levels of stress or exhaustion can have an impact on your heart, as well as your mind.