Can working overtime mean high blood pressure?

According to a recent study, working more than 40 hours a week may put people at risk for high blood pressure. (Cleveland Clinic News Service)

For many people, working overtime is all part of the job. But, according to a recent study, working more than 40 hours a week may put us at risk for high blood pressure.

The study looked at 3,547 office workers over a five-year period. Participants wore devices that measured their blood pressure throughout the day. Researchers examined sustained hypertension, or blood pressure that is consistently high, as well as “masked” hypertension.

According to Dr. George Thomas, of Cleveland Clinic, who did not take part in the study, masked hypertension happens when a person’s blood pressure is high at work, or home, but not at the doctor’s office.

“This study looked at masked hypertension, and they found that even if the blood pressures were normal in a relaxed environment or controlled environment, when in the work situation, if people were working longer hours, there was a 70% higher risk for having masked hypertension,” he said.

The study showed people who worked more than 40 hours per week had an increased risk for both masked and sustained hypertension. The risk climbed even higher for those who worked more than 49 hours a week.

Thomas said when we work long hours in an office, we spend a lot of time sitting, which has previously been shown to be a risk factor for high blood pressure. The same goes for unhealthy sleep and snacking habits, which may also be associated with long work hours. Since the symptoms of high blood pressure can be silent, Dr. Thomas said, few people would suspect they have masked hypertension, especially if their numbers look good in the doctor’s office.

“The most important thing is for people who work long hours to understand that they are at risk for potentially having high blood pressure,” he said. “It’s important they talk about their work schedule with their doctor, so a doctor can arrange for home blood pressure monitoring, or 24-hour blood pressure monitoring. According to the results from the study, it appears they have a much higher risk of having either sustained hypertension or masked hypertension.”

Thomas said uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Lifestyle modifications such as a low sodium diet, regular physical activity, lowering alcohol intake, not smoking, and keeping a healthy weight are the keys to keeping blood pressure at a safe level.

Complete results of the study can be found in Hypertension.