Long Work Hours Linked to Regular and Hidden High Blood Pressure

Long Work Hours Linked to Regular and Hidden High Blood Pressure

A recent study by the American Heart Association tested the blood pressure from employees who worked 49-plus hours on the job weekly compared with that of those who worked fewer than 35 hours a week. The results suggest a bigger problem of hypertension than expected.

High blood pressure is incredibly common, and there may be more hidden, work-related factors than health officials originally predicted. Office workers who spend long hours on the job are more likely to have high blood pressure, but this also includes a hidden type that often goes undetected during routine checkups.

About half of Americans older than 18 years old experience hypertension, and it’s a primary factor is over 82,000 deaths per year. Approximately 15-30 percent of U.S. adults have a type of high blood pressure that is particularly hard to detect and goes underreported: masked hypertension, meaning their high blood pressure readings are normal during health care visits but elevated when measured elsewhere.

A recent study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension analyzed data from over 3,5000 white-collar employees at three public institutions in Quebec, Canada, according to Science Daily. The study compared the blood pressure from employees who worked 49 or more hours a week with those who worked 35 hours or fewer.

Researchers found the following results:

  • Working 49 or more hours was linked to 70 percent greater likelihood of having masked hypertension and 66 percent greater likelihood of having sustained hypertension-elevated blood pressure readings in and out of a clinical setting
  • Working between 41 and 48 hours each week was linked to a 54 percent greater likelihood of having masked hypertension and a 42 percent greater likelihood of having sustained hypertension.
  • The findings accounted for variables such as job strain, age, sex, education level, occupation, smoking status, body mass index, and other health factors.

Elevated blood pressure is notoriously linked to other health complications such as a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Like the associated risks that come with high blood pressure, the study goes to show that there are also many factors that contribute to high blood pressure, such as smoking, being overweight, lack of physical activity, too much salt or alcohol in the diet, stress, older age, and genetics, among other things. Researchers admit there are likely other factors outside of long work hours that contribute to participants’ readings.

“The observed associations [in the study] accounted for job strain, a work stressor defined as a combination of high work demands and low decision-making authority. However, other related stressors might have an impact,” said lead study lead author Xavier Trudel. “Future research could examine whether family responsibilities—such as a worker's number of children, household duties and childcare role—might interact with work circumstances to explain high blood pressure.”

Plus, studying blood pressure takes time. In the case of this five-year study, researchers conducted three waves of testing—in years one, three, and five. The study required that participants use wearable monitors to check the participant’s resting blood pressure multiple times a day: three times in one morning, then for the rest of the day every 15 minutes. Each monitor collected a minimum of 20 additional measures for one day. Average resting readings at or above 140/90 mmHg, and average working readings at or above 135/85 mmHg, were considered high.

Overall, about 19 percent of participants sustained hypertension—which included those who were already taking high blood pressure medications. Over 13 percent of the workers had masked hypertension and are not receiving treatment for high blood pressure. What’s more is the correlation between working long hours and high blood pressure appeared to be about the same for men as for women.

Researchers do recognize the limitations of the study, especially the fact that the data does not account for blood pressure readings of blue-collar workers, shift workers, or positions with higher physical demands. Other limitations include the study’s measurement of blood pressure only during daytime hours, and the omission of hours worked outside participants’ primary job.

But while there are many factors that can contribute to high blood pressure, the study serves to educate people on the effects of working long hours, and the health consequences that come with it. Not only can working long hours put you at a higher risk of high blood pressure, but it can also mean you might have masked hypertension that is hard to detect.

“People should be aware that long work hours might affect their heart health, and if they're working long hours, they should ask their doctors about checking their blood pressure over time with a wearable monitor,” Trudel said. “Masked hypertension can affect someone for a long period of time and is associated, in the long term, with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. We have previously shown that over five years, about 1 out of 5 people with masked hypertension never showed high blood pressure in a clinical setting, potentially delaying diagnosis and treatment.”

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