4 Surprising Threats to Heart Health

4 Surprising Threats to Heart Health

Nurses know all the reasons why heart health is so important. They don’t have to be a cardiac nurse to know that a healthy heart impacts everything from energy levels to brain health.

If you’re trying to take care of your heart by watching what you eat, getting enough exercise, and keeping your stress at a somewhat manageable level, you might be surprised to find your heart health is influenced by things you often just can’t control.

As a nurse, keeping some of these things in mind when talking with patients might be a flag for potential heart health trouble. Knowing a little more about those you treat can give you a broad picture of how events happening in their lives could impact their heart health.


People predisposed to heart disease because of their genetics can’t do anything about the genes they were born with. They can take steps to counter conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels that are often handed down through generations. They should also be especially careful of their health, controlling the factors they can (diet and exercise are the big ones) and working with a health team to mitigate the ones they can’t.

Your Job

Believe it or not, a recent American Heart Association report found that some jobs seem to increase a woman’s chances of poor heart health. According to this report, registered nurses are 14 percent more likely to have poor heart health, as do women in other health care roles such as a psychiatry, home health, or social work (36 percent more likely). Using data from approximately 65,000 postmenopausal women from the Women’s Health Initiative study, researchers found that women in some occupations show signs of poorer heart health than others.

Changing Economic Factors

Economic disparities have historically been linked with poorer health outcomes across regions, races, ages, and genders. But a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed a link between a significant drop in income and declines in heart health. Using data from the Atherosclerosis Risk In Communities (ARIC) study, the cohort showed that an income loss of 50 percent or more led to higher incident cardiovascular disease (CVD). Conversely, rising income levels resulted in decreased CVD.


Women lose the potentially heart-protective benefits of estrogen after menopause. Along with aging and the cumulative effects of other habits, this time in a woman’s life might increase her chances of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that women take stock of their health around this time and work to make changes that will be good for their hearts.

As you meet with patients and as you consider your own health, taking your heart into consideration is going to have on overall positive impact on your well-being. Understanding how other factors can have a significant impact on heart health is a great starting point for discussions about prevention, testing, monitoring, and lifestyle changes that will make the heart stronger and healthier.

Report Finds Heart Disease Risk Decreases After Night Shift Work Stops

Report Finds Heart Disease Risk Decreases After Night Shift Work Stops

Night shift nurses have long known their schedules can cause health problems, but a recently published study offers hope that the impact isn’t forever.

In April, “The Association Between Rotating Night Shift Work and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Among Women,” confirmed the risk between heart disease and shift work, but noted when you stop night shift work, the risk for coronary heart disease decreases.

The report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, evaluated the work and lifestyle habits of more than 189,000 healthy nurses who participated in the Nurses Health Studies. Lead by Celine Vetter, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School the study looked at their rotating night shift work in 1988 and 1989 and evaluated the findings with their body weight, physical activity, diet quality, and whether or not they smoked.

According to the report, the longer the nurses worked a rotating night shift, the higher the risk of coronary heart disease. Researchers noted up to an 18 percent increase over women who didn’t work a night shift if the shift work lasted more than 10 years. The nurses who reported the rotating shifts worked at least three night shifts over the course of a month in addition to other day and evening shifts.

In a video reporting her findings, Vetter noted one finding that was significant enough to warrant more studies. Even if nurses worked many years of rotating shift work, thereby upping their risk of disease, the findings showed that when the rotating shift work stopped, the risk started to decrease. The longer the time passed from when the night shift ended, the greater the decrease in risk.

The finding itself is worth looking into, says Vetter, to see if any other other factors could contribute to the decrease or not.

Overall, the findings show that rotating night shift work causes enough of a disruption to cause a small, but statistically significant, increase in coronary heart disease. And while there were nearly 11,000 cases of coronary heart disease recorded, that still means that 178,000 nurses didn’t have that correlation.

If you work a rotating night shift (and even if you don’t), it’s a good idea to take special care of yourself with heart-healthy habits. Get enough exercise for stress reduction, heart health, and weight control. Eat a heart-healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and keep the saturated fat to a minimum. Get enough rest (even if you have to fit in a nap or two in your crazy schedule) and don’t smoke. And be heartened that even as your risk is increased the longer your rotating shifts go on, that same risk also decreases during the years after you return to a regular schedule.