MONDAY, Nov. 19 (HealthDay News) -- More bad news for the
jobless: Heart attack risk rises with unemployment, particularly in
the first year, new research suggests.
What's more, heart risks associated with repeated joblessness
may be on a par with that posed by major cardiovascular risk
factors such as smoking or having diabetes or high blood pressure
Investigators, who interviewed almost 13,500 older adults over
nearly two decades, said the findings appear to apply equally to
men and women of all major racial and ethnic groups.
"Our study investigated how different dimensions of job
instability were associated with increased risk for a heart
attack," said study lead author Matthew Dupre, from the department
of community and family medicine at Duke University in Durham,
"What we found is that risks for heart attack were significantly
higher among the unemployed, and that risks increased incrementally
with each additional job loss," he added. Voluntary retirement was
notassociated with a boost in heart health problems.
The strain of multiple job losses packs as great a punch to the
heart as chronic disease or longtime negative behaviors, he
"For example, although current smoking status is a known risk
factor for cardiovascular events, long-term patterns of tobacco use
are more powerful predictors of risk," Dupre noted. "Similarly, it
is not the onset of hypertension or type 2 diabetes mellitus that
increases the risk of heart attack, but instead the strain that
these illnesses exact on the cardiovascular system over time. Our
findings for employment history largely mirror these protracted and
For the study, published online Nov. 19 in
Archives of Internal Medicine, the authors sifted through
bi-yearly responses about employment status provided between 1992
and 2010 by participants in the U.S. Health and Retirement Study
who were 51 to 75 years old. Their responses were correlated with
heart attack incidence over the same time frame.
Fourteen percent were unemployed at the study's launch. And
nearly seven in 10 experienced at least one job loss during the
study period, which overlapped with the start of the recession in
2008, when U.S. unemployment approached a 30-year high.
Nearly 8 percent had a heart attack during the study period, and
they were more likely to be older, male and white, and also more
likely to live in the South.
Low income, low educational attainment, lack of health
insurance, being overweight or obese, having high blood pressure or
diabetes, a disability, depression, and a sedentary lifestyle also
increased the risk of heart attack.
That said, the authors found that
independentof all other risk factors, the odds for
experiencing a heart attack went up with each additional job loss
(up to the level of four or more job losses), when compared with
those who never lost a job.
Also, while the first year of unemployment was associated with a
boost in heart attack risk, unemployment longer than a year did not
seem to further elevate risk.
The data did not include the reasons for job loss or the exact
nature of the jobs, and the authors cautioned that both factors
could play a role in heart attack risk. Dupre also said further
research is needed before a direct cause-and-effect link can be
In an editorial accompanying the study, William Gallo of the
City University of New York said future investigations should focus
on the how's and why's of the association, including whether your
stage of life at the time of job loss affects heart risk. The study
participants were at or near the end of their careers.
Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of
California, Los Angeles, said studies have shown that unemployment
results in substantial physiologic stress. "This stress has been
associated with excess risk for cardiovascular events," he said.
"And stress itself leads to a variety of pro-inflammatory responses
that can be a causal pathway to increased cardiovascular
Some theories abound that people who lose their jobs pay less
overall attention to their health, Fonarow added. "Less access to
health care among the jobless may also play a role, as could a
related excess in drinking, a return to smoking, exercising less,
or eating less healthfully," he said. "So the more insight we can
get into this the better, because it's obviously a complex
situation with many contributing factors."
For more on heart attack risk, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and