Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of heart arrhythmia, around 17 million people in Europe are estimated to have this condition by next year. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk for heart attack, stroke and death. What causes atrial fibrillation is still not completely understood.

Burnout syndrome is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion, usually caused by prolonged stress at work or home. It is different from depression, which is often characterised by low mood, guilt and poor self-esteem.

A study by Dr. Parveen K. Garg from the University of Southern California, surveyed more than 11,000 people for the presence of exhaustion, anger, antidepressant use and poor social support. They followed these individuals over a period of 25 years for the development of atrial fibrillation. This study found that participants with the highest levels of exhaustion had a 20% higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation, compared to those with little to no history of burnout.

According to Dr. Garg there are two mechanisms observed in burnout patients, increased inflammatory processes and a heightened activation of the body’s physiologic stress response. When these mechanisms are triggered long term, these can have severe and damaging effects on the heart tissue, which could eventually lead to arrhythmia.

“It is already known that exhaustion increases one’s risk for cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. We now report that it may also increase one’s risk for developing atrial fibrillation, a potentially serious cardiac arrhythmia. The importance of avoiding exhaustion through careful attention to – and management of – personal stress levels as a way to help preserve overall cardiovascular health cannot be overstated.” said Dr. Garg.


Parveen K. Garg et al., 2020, “Associations of anger, vital exhaustion, anti-depressant use, and poor social ties with incident atrial fibrillation: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study”. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology doi:10.1177/2047487319897163.

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