Working long hours increases risk of “hidden” high blood pressure

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Office workers who regularly spend long hours at their desks are more likely to have “hidden” high blood pressure, a study has found.

Researchers at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, followed 3,547 white collar employees over a five-year period and found that those working 49 or more hours per week were 70% more likely to exhibit “masked hypertension” – a condition where blood pressure is recorded as normal when a person is examined by doctor, but high on other occasions – than those who spent less time at the office. They were also 66% more likely to have “sustained” hypertension.

The risk of high blood pressure was lower among staff who worked fewer hours. Employees working 41 to 48 hours per week were 51% more likely to have masked hypertension than colleagues who worked shorter days.

“People should be aware that long work hours might affect their heart health, and if they’re working long hours, they should ask their doctors about checking their blood pressure over time with a wearable monitor,” said the study’s lead author, Xavier Trudel, an assistant professor in social and preventive medicine at Laval University.

“Masked hypertension . . . is associated, in the long term, with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” he said. “We’ve previously shown that over five years, about one in five people with masked hypertension never showed high blood pressure in a clinical setting, potentially delaying diagnosis and treatment.”

The study saw participants’ blood pressure checked during the study’s first year, third year and fifth year. To simulate a visit to the GP, the researchers set up a mock clinic in an office at the volunteers’ workplace and checked each participant’s blood pressure three times in one morning.

Participants were then asked to wear a monitoring device that took blood pressure readings at 15 minute intervals for the rest of that day to monitor blood pressure levels during a “normal” work day.

Overall, 18.7% of the volunteers had sustained hypertension and 13.5% had masked hypertension.

The study was published in the Hypertension journal this month.

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