As 2020 begins, many Kenyans have come up with a list of New Year resolutions that they seek to abide by to achieve their life goals. For most employees, having a work-life balance usually ranks high on the list.
But as soon as they go back to the office, job pressures and demands push them to ‘backslide’ or go back on their old overworking routines.
As non-communicable diseases (NCDs) continue to rise in Kenya, health experts urge employees to resist the overworking ‘temptation’ to avert burnout that jeopardises their health and well-being.
Indeed, a new study, which was published in the Hypertension Journal, shows that workers who spend long hours at the office are more likely to have high blood pressure.
Aside from the common type of hypertension, the researchers found that affected individuals are also predisposed to a rare kind of blood pressure, known as masked hypertension, which can go undetected during routine medical appointments.
Hypertension — also known as high blood pressure — occurs when the flow of blood in blood vessels happens with excessive force or pressure.
The recommended blood pressure reading for healthy individuals is less than 120/80 mmHg. Those with hypertension, on the other hand, have a reading of 140/90 mmHg and above.
In most cases, health practitioners can easily determine those suffering from hypertension through routine blood pressure tests conducted in medical facilities.
But in some rare cases, individuals may exhibit normal (healthy) blood pressure at the hospital and high blood pressure while at home or outside the doctor’s office.
Such individuals are considered to have masked hypertension as the condition ‘hides’ itself during medical check-ups and ‘resurrects’ afterwards.
This is unlike the common type of hypertension where elevated blood pressure readings are sustained in and out of clinical or hospital settings.
Consequently, unless blood pressure tests are conducted both at the hospital and at home, it may be difficult to catch masked hypertension early enough in affected individuals.
This predisposes them to adverse effects of the disease such as strokes and heart attacks.
Hypertension may also damage kidneys, cause memory loss and eyesight problems.
The new study, which was conducted by a team of researchers from the Canadian based Laval University, enlisted more than 3,500 white-collar employees at three public institutions in Quebec.
Findings of the five-year study showed that working 49 or more hours each week was linked to a 66 percent increased chance of common hypertension and a 70 percent greater likelihood of having masked hypertension.
Working between 41 and 48 hours each week was linked to a 42 percent and 54 percent enhanced risk of having common and masked hypertension respectively.
According to the study, the link between long working hours and high blood pressure was about the same for both men and women.
“Both masked and sustained high blood pressure are linked to higher cardiovascular disease risk,” said Dr Xavier Trudel, assistant professor and lead author of the study from the Laval University department of social and preventive medicine.
“People should, therefore, be aware that long work hours might affect their heart health. And if they’re working long hours, they should ask their doctors about checking their blood pressure over time with a wearable monitor,” Trudel said.
A wearable monitor would make it possible for health workers to detect both common and masked hypertension, hence averting delayed diagnosis and treatment.
Trudel noted that the observed associations between long working hours and hypertension accounted for job strain — a work stressor defined as a combination of high work demands and low decision-making authority.
“However, other related stressors might have an impact. Future research could examine whether family responsibilities — such as a worker’s number of children, household duties and child care role — might interact with work circumstances to explain high blood pressure,” stated Trudel.
The study did not include blue-collar workers (employees who are paid by the hour while performing manual labour work in positions such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction, mining, maintenance or hospitality services.
“Therefore, these findings may not reflect the impact on blood pressure of shift-work or positions with higher physical demands,” the authors said.
Other risk factors for high blood pressure include obesity, advanced age, tobacco use, physical inactivity, family history of hypertension, high-stress levels, too much alcohol use, enhanced salt intake and minimal levels of potassium in diets.
Some of the major symptoms of high blood pressure are headaches, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, nosebleeds, visual changes and blood in the urine. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are key to averting adverse effects of the disease.
In Kenya, the government’s statistics from the 2015 Kenya Stepwise Survey for NCDs risk factors show that more than half (56 per cent) of Kenyans have never been assessed for raised blood pressure or hypertension. Out of those tested and found to have hypertension, only 22 per cent are on medication prescribed by a health worker.