Unemployment increases risk of heart attack

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With the economy showing early signs of recovery, patients and physicians may have more to cheer about: lower rates of heart attacks.

According to an article in the Archives of Internal Medicine, unemployment is associated with higher rates of heart attacks.

The heart is the hardest working muscle in the body, beating between 60 to 100 times a minute at rest, and even faster during exercise. The heart runs on oxygen and when it does not receive enough, a heart attack occurs.

The classic presentation of a heart attack is pressure in the middle of the chest that spreads to the arm and is associated with nausea and sweating. Early arrival to the emergency room is the key to successful treatment.

Dr. Matthew Dupre, an assistant professor at Duke School of Medicine, and colleagues studied 1992 to 2010 survey data from over 13,000 patients between ages 51 and 75.

Patients were grouped into three categories: employed, unemployed, or retired. After controlling for differences like smoking and obesity, patients who reported being unemployed had a 35 percent higher risk of a heart attack compared to the employed group.

Researchers also found that those who had been laid off multiple times, rather than just once, had a higher risk of a heart attack. Heart attack risk was the greatest in the first year of unemployment.

Of note, patients who reported themselves as retired did not have a higher risk of a heart attack.

Periods of unemployment can be very difficult and can worsen cardiac risk factors like cholesterol and blood pressure. They impact what we can afford, like fresh fruits and prescriptions, as well as our level of stress.

For patients struggling to pay bills, some medical practices are equipped with social workers who can help.

Also, many pharmacies now offer monthly prescriptions for less than $5.

In difficult financial times, Dupre emphasizes the connection between the economy and good heart health.

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