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Women on night shift: Increased chances of heart disease, cancer

Rotating shift work and health

The study, published recently in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, looked only at data compiled on women by the Nurses Health Registry (NHR). The compilation of the data began in 1976 and the women answered questionnaires along the way.

For the purposes of the study, rotating night shift work was defined as working through the night at least three times during a month, that along with working regular day or afternoon shifts in that month.

Those nurses who spent five or more years working rotating night shifts were found to have an increased risk of dying from heart disease or diseases of the blood vessels than those who worked regular shifts. If she was found to have worked rotating night shifts up to 15 years, there was also a greater likelihood of dying from cancer than there was for those who consistently worked regular hours.

Death from heart disease was up 19 percent for those working rotating night shifts past five years. Death from lung cancer for those working rotating night shifts past 15 years was 25 percent higher. Overall, chances of an earlier death than those who work regular hours was 11 percent higher.

Studies on night shift

There have been other studies which suggest that for both women and men working night shifts can lead to other illnesses, from minor conditions such as back problems to greater issues, such as chronic sleep issues, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The study on nurses and rotating night shift work comes from an international team of researchers that included Dr. Eva Schernhammer of the Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Schernhammer noted that other studies have been done on the subject and that they came to a similar conclusion about working the night shift. “These results add to prior evidence of a potentially detrimental relation of rotating night shift work and health and longevity,” she said.

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