Burnout Linked with Increased Risk of Atrial Fibrillation

  • Exhaustion not only boosts a person’s risk for heart disease and strokes, but also predicts the incidence of atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder.
  • Results of a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology showed that participants who suffered from burnout syndrome were most likely to develop atrial fibrillation by 20 percent.
  • An estimated 33.5 million people worldwide have atrial fibrillation, which is characterized by fast and irregular heartbeats.

Exhaustion is known to harm one’s mental health. But a 2020 study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that it can also negatively impact heart health.

“Exhaustion increases one’s risk for cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, and also now, based on our results, for atrial fibrillation (AF),” says Dr. Parveen Garg of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who led the study.

Involving 11,455 people with an average age of 57 and with no reported history of atrial fibrillation, the study tracked the participants over a period of nearly 23 years. By the end of the study, results showed that 2,220 people, or about 19 percent of the participants, developed atrial fibrillation.

Additionally, those who reported the highest levels of burnout when the study started were noted to have 20 % higher risks of developing AF unlike participants with little or no history of exhaustion.

“Vital exhaustion, commonly referred to as burnout syndrome, is typically caused by prolonged and profound stress at work or home,” Dr. Garg adds.  

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of treated heart rhythm disorder that affects about 33.5 million people worldwide, according to a study published in the journal Circulation.

How Atrial Fibrillation is developed


Normally, a healthy heart relaxes and contracts to a steady, regular beat. In atrial fibrillation, the heartbeat beats irregularly and often rapidly, amplifying risks of blood clots, strokes, heart failure, and death from cardiovascular issues.

Besides old age, other factors that contribute to higher AF risks include: family history, heart disease, hypertension, obesity, drinking alcohol, diabetes, and other chronic respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).

Furthermore, the researchers also determined whether extreme psychological burnout might also be a contributing factor to AF risks. Burnout levels were estimated based on symptoms including fatigue, lack of sleep, energy and concentration, crying spells, feelings of hopelessness and irritability, lower libido, depression, or suicidal thoughts. They also took into account antidepressant use, episodes of anger, and lack of social connections.

Findings revealed that 21 percent higher risk of AF was attributed to antidepressant use, and results didn’t vary regardless of the type of antidepressant used. Also, anger or social isolation didn’t appear to influence AF risks.

Garg says there are two reasons that can explain the link between exhaustion and the heart rhythm disorder.

“Vital exhaustion is associated with increased inflammation and increased activation of the body’s physiological stress response,” Garg says. He adds that when both are chronically triggered, they can seriously damage the heart tissue, eventually leading to the development of AF.

Burnout can also possibly contribute to unhealthy habits such as overeating and less exercise, leading to AF risk factors like obesity and diabetes.

Another is working longer hours. A 2017 decade-long study published in the European Heart Journal found that at 55 hours of work a week increased one’s chances of developing AF by 42 percent versus working 35 to 40 hours a week.

Maintaining Heart Health

To keep the heart healthy, Dr. Christoph Herrmann-Lingen of the University of Göttingen Medical Centre in Germany, recommends avoiding negative emotions through relaxation techniques like running or yoga as well as limiting interpersonal conflicts. Working less or quitting a stressful job also helps, he adds.

However, no matter how we try to avoid negative emotions, most reasons for it are beyond our control, says Dr. Tom Dr. Marshall, of the University of Birmingham in England, who wasn’t involved in the burnout study.  

He suggests instead to take steps in hindering risk factors for high blood pressure, like diabetes, obesity, and a diet high in salt, fat, or cholesterol, to reduce risks for atrial fibrillation.

Source: Everyday Health

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