In a prospective analysis from 1992 to 2010 with interviews every other year, researchers tracked job history and heart attacks among more than 13,000 people ages 51 to 75. The study, published online Nov. 19 in The Archives of Internal Medicine, recorded 1,061 heart attacks over the period.
After adjusting for well-established heart attack risks — age, sex, smoking, income, hypertension, cholesterol screening, exercise, depression, diabetes and others — the researchers found that being unemployed also increased the risk of a heart attack, by an average of 35 percent.
Losing one job was linked to a 22 percent increase in heart attack risk, losing two jobs with a 27 percent increase, three jobs with a 52 percent increase, and a loss of four or more jobs with a 63 percent increase.Beyond the first year, the length of time unemployed was not significantly associated with increased risk, but repeated job loss was. Losing one job was linked to a 22 percent increase in heart attack risk, losing two jobs with a 27 percent increase, three jobs with a 52 percent increase, and a loss of four or more jobs with a 63 percent increase.
The magnitude of these risks for heart attack, the authors write, is similar to that of smoking, diabetes and hypertension.
“We don’t know what the mechanisms are,” said the lead author, Matthew E. Dupre, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke. “But until we do, it’s important to be aware of what the stress of a job loss might do, and that people who experience more than one loss might be at even higher risk.”