The Lifesaving Question Doctors Forget to Ask

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How many hours do you work? That’s one question many doctors don’t ask, but they should. Those long hours you are putting in at the office may be killing you, literally. According to a new study, if you work an average of 11 or more hours per day, you have a whopping 67 percent higher risk of suffering from a heart attack than those who work a standard seven- to eight-hour day. While you may hope that those long workdays will pay off with career advancement and higher pay, your diligence may be undermining your health in the long run.

Coronary heart disease, a condition that causes the blood vessels to the heart to narrow, is the biggest cause of death in the United States. Work schedules may have been overlooked as a potential early warning sign for heart disease, the researchers say. At the conclusion of the study, an astounding 67 percent of the people with heart trouble came from the minority (10 percent) that had a history of working 11 or more hours a day. All other factors considered (age, sex, cholesterol, smoking habits, blood pressure), this group was not at a higher risk for heart problems. The risk score for cardiac disease steadily increased for a person working more than an eight-hour workday.

The research supports the importance of doctors considering the number of  hours an individual works in addition to looking at his cholesterol, blood pressure, exercise and family history when assessing risks for cardiovascular disease. Just a simple question about how may hours a patient works at a routine doctor visit could identify an additional five percent of the people who are at risk for heart disease.

Not enough research has been done yet to determine if long working hours in the absence of other risk factors contribute to heart disease, or whether they act as a “marker” for other factors that can harm heart health. Working long hours may also be an indicator of an unhealthy lifestyle in general. Bad habits such as eating fast food, not exercising, not getting enough sleep, and increased stress are all factors that could go hand in hand with long work hours.

While determining risk factors for heart disease involves multiple factors, this new research adds another piece of the bigger picture for medical professionals in helping patients maintain cardiovascular health. At the very least, it’s a good reason to stick to the old saying “everything in moderation” – even work hours.

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