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Joblessness could raise likelihood of heart attack

| Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, 5:20 p.m.

CHICAGO — Unemployment hurts more than your wallet — it could damage your heart. That's according to a study linking joblessness with heart attacks in older workers.

The increased odds weren't huge, although multiple job losses posed as big a threat as smoking, high blood pressure and other conditions that are bad for the heart.

The researchers analyzed data on more than 13,000 men and women ages 51 to 75 who were taking part in an ongoing health and retirement survey partly sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. Since 1992, participants have been interviewed every two years about their employment and health.

The analysis has several limitations. The data show periods of unemployment but don't indicate whether people were fired, laid off, out of work while switching jobs or voluntarily left a job. The researchers considered all of those situations “job losses,” but it's likely the greatest risks for heart attacks were from being fired or laid off, said researcher Matthew Dupre, an assistant professor at Duke University and the lead author.

The analysis appears in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine.

The analysis covers 1992-2010. Participants were mostly in their 50s at the study's beginning and were asked about their job history, employment status and recent heart attacks at subsequent interviews. People who'd had heart attacks before the study began were excluded.

Nearly 70 percent had at least one job loss, or period of unemployment after working at a job, and at least 10 percent had four or more before and/or during the study period.

There were 1,061 heart attacks during the study. Those with at least one job loss were 22 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who never lost a job. Those with at least four job losses had a 60 percent higher risk than those with none. Men and women faced equal risks.

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