Is shift work hazardous to your health? There are a number of studies that highlight the dangers associated with working odd hours, from personal health risks to dangers to others. The two areas we focus on here explain the increased risk of diabetes among shift workers, and the dangers to patients when doctors work longer shifts.
Type 2 Diabetes: Shift Workers at an Increased Risk
Working the night shift disrupts your circadian rhythms; the internal clock that regulates body functions in a 24 hour cycle. Circadian rhythms are influenced by light and darkness, and when they are disrupted, it can affect your health. Those who work rotating night shifts are at risk for a variety of conditions, including obesity (excessive body fat), metabolic syndrome (parallel risk-factors increasing risk for stroke, coronary artery disease, and type-2 diabetes) and glucose dysregulation (inability to appropriately regulate blood sugar levels), according to Frank Hu and his colleagues.
In this 2011 study, researchers tested two groups of nurses over several years, and concluded that working an extended period of night shift increases the chance of developing type 2 diabetes, although they did not reach a conclusion as far as the reason for this correlation.
Shift Work Sleep Problems: Impact of Physician Sleep Deprivation on Patients
Christian De Virgilio and his colleagues have studied a number of cases before and after 2003, when a rule went into effect that limited the number of hours interns could work. The rule stated that physicians in training could not work more than a 30 hour shift and no more than 80 hours a week.
In one study, Dr. De Virgilio examined 2,470 patients that had their gallbaldders removed. About half of the surgeries took place before the 2003 ruling and the other half took place after the rule went into effect. Researchers suspected that the outcomes would be the same; however, they found that there was a decrease in patient complications after the rule went into effect in 2003.
Dr. De Virgilio also worked on another similar study in 2010 that appears demonstrate that working over 16 hours may not have the same effect as the much longer shifts eliminated by the 2003 rule. In this study, researchers reviewed 2,908 cases of laparoscopic cholecystectomies (removal of the gallbladder) and 1, 726 cases of appendectomies (removal of the appendix) done by surgical residents at a teaching hospital from July 2003 through March 2009. The surgeries that were performed after 10 PM were performed by residents who had been working 16 hours or more. This study compared the daytime hour cases (6am to 10pm) to the nighttime hour cases (10pm to 6am) and found that there was no change in the morbidity (complications) or mortality (death) rate in patients in either group. This led to the conclusion that a five hour rest period, after working 16 hours would not make a difference in the patient outcome for these two common procedures.
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