05/29/2013 10:43 am ET Updated Jul 29, 2013

Job Burnout Is a Risk for Heart Disease

A research paper published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine in 2012 is showing a solid link between job burnout and the risk of coronary heart disease for the first time. This new information shows a connection that has been suspected for decades and adds to the list of ways burnout can actually kill.

Previous research has shown a correlation between job burnout and the following

  • Risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Impaired fertility
  • All cause mortality
  • Dyslipidemia, metabolic syndrome and inflammation biomarkers
  • Alcoholism and drug addiction
  • Higher rates of suicide

The current study is: "Burnout and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A prospective study of 8838 Employees," Psychosomatic Medicine 74:840-847 (2012).

They studied a cohort of 8,838 healthy, white collar workers in Israel for an average of 3.4 years.

At baseline, they measured burnout severity using a validated instrument called the Shirom-Melamed Burnout Measure. This is a tool similar to the Maslach Burnout Inventory.

They adjusted their analysis to eliminate risk differences for all of the following: age, gender, workload (subjective and by hours worked), depression, physical activity, smoking, body mass index, family history, blood pressure and fasting blood sugar.

Burnout emerged as an independent risk factor for CHD when the individuals with the top 20 percent of burnout scores were compared to the rest of the cohort. The increase in risk from burnout for this "top quintile" was 79 percent (hazard ratio = 1.79)

Note that this study is not specifically about burnout in physicians or health care workers. It is in a relatively healthy, white collar group of workers. The authors expressed the concern that a more "normal" worker cross section might have shown an even stronger correlation.

A landmark study in 2012 showed that burnout is more prevalent in doctors than the general population, making the current study a shot across the bow for doctors suffering from physician burnout as well.

Bottom line: Physician burnout is bad for you, your family, your patients and now CHD joins alcohol, drugs and suicide as ways burnout can actually be fatal.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Dike Drummond, M.D., is a family physician, executive coach and creator of the Burnout Prevention Matrix report with over 117 ways doctors and healthcare organizations can work together to prevent physician burnout. He provides stress management, burnout prevention and leadership development services to physicians through his website, The Happy MD.