Occupational Burnout Can Lead To Coronary Heart Disease

A study from Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israelpublished in Psychosomatic Medicine examined burnout and the chronic condition’s correlation to coronary heart disease.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart and is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the US.

Coronary heart disease is caused by atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the arteries of the heart. Hardening of the arteries occurs when fat, cholesterol, and other substances accumulate within the inner walls of arteries and form hard structures called plaques.

Over 8800 employed men and women in apparent good health and aged 19 to 67 years participated in the study, “Burnout and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Prospective Study of 8838 Employees.”

Contributors were subjected to routine health examinations at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and were followed up on 3.4 years thereafter.

Burnout was measured by the Shirom-Melamed Burnout Measure (SMBM), a questionnaire scaling responses from a score of never to always.

CHD incidence was defined as a composite of acute myocardial infarction, diagnosed ischemic heart disease, and diagnosed angina pectoris.

A significant threshold effect of burnout on CHD incidence was observed. Follow-up reviews identified 93 new cases of CHD and an associated increase risk of CHD to baseline levels of burnout. Participants who scored high on burnout tests had a higher risk of developing CHD. For the 20 percent of patients who most identified with the symptoms of burnout, the risk was amplified by 79 percent.

Burnout is a negative state consisting of emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue, and cognitive weariness. Burnout is a psychological term explaining long-term enervation and diminished interest typically caused by stress inducing, unpleasant activities.

Burnout is subcategorized into 12 theoretical non-sequential phases, defined by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger and his colleague Gail North. Freudenberger was one of the first to describe the symptoms of exhaustion professionally as a “state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life,” and conduct a comprehensive study on burnout.

Freudenberger coined the term in 1974, presumably based on the 1960 novel A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene, which describes a protagonist suffering from the condition.

Occupational burnout can be attributed to critical bosses, perfectionism, lack of recognition and reward, inadequate pay, unending or impossible tasks, difficult clients and customers, bureaucracy, conflicting home and work values, and social and emotional skill deficits.

The groundwork for burnout can be laid, beginning with excessive ambition and determination. Being motivated is certainly not a character flaw but can lead to disappointments when goals are not achieved. A compulsory need to perform at an optimal level at all times can contribute.

People suffering burnout can become implacable, intolerant, and isolated as stress becomes more encumbering. As pressure and problems mount, an onset of withdrawal and depression can escalate, having physical, emotional, and psychological impacts. Burnout causes exhaustion, hopelessness, indifference, and suicidal tendencies.

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