Burnout is a term many will be familiar with, but are unlikely to have linked with an irregular heartbeat.
However, scientists say the syndrome – known as vital exhaustion – which leaves sufferers feeling excessively tired, devoid of energy, demoralised, and irritable, could be associated with a potentially deadly condition.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of heart arrhythmia – heart rhythm disturbance.
It is estimated that around 17 million people in Europe and 10 million people in the US will have this condition by next year, increasing their risk for heart attack, stroke, and death.
However, what causes atrial fibrillation is not fully understood.
Dr Parveen Garg of the University of Southern California, said: “Vital exhaustion, commonly referred to as burnout syndrome, is typically caused by prolonged and profound stress at work or home.
“It differs from depression, which is characterised by low mood, guilt, and poor self-esteem.
“The results of our study further establish the harm that can be caused in people who suffer from exhaustion that goes unchecked.”
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Researchers surveyed more than 11,000 people for the presence of vital exhaustion, anger, antidepressant use, and poor social support.
They were then followed over a period of nearly 25 years for the development of atrial fibrillation.
According to the study, participants with the highest levels of vital exhaustion were at a 20 per cent greater risk of developing atrial fibrillation, compared to those with little to no evidence of vital exhaustion.
Published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, the study sets out that further research is needed to better understand the findings, and to identify how patients can be helped.
Reader Q&A: Why do we get more emotional when we’re tired?
Because our brains lose their capacity for balance and control. In a healthy brain after plenty of sleep, the evolutionarily older parts of the brain are controlled by various parts of the neocortex (the outer convoluted part of the brain that is especially large in humans).
These older parts are similar in many other animals and include circuits specialised for emotional behaviour, including the amygdala. This responds when people look at emotional stimuli, and brain scans show a 60 per cent increase in reactivity when people are sleep deprived. Adolescents frequently get insufficient sleep and this contributes to emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Dr Garg said: “Vital exhaustion is associated with increased inflammation and heightened activation of the body’s physiologic stress response.
“When these two things are chronically triggered that can have serious and damaging effects on the heart tissue, which could then eventually lead to the development of this arrhythmia.”
No connections were found between anger, antidepressant use, or poor social support and development of atrial fibrillation.