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Unemployment at some point in life may increase the risk heart attacks after the age of 50, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

In fact, the chances of a heart attack due to being laid off may be equivalent to the risks associated with smoking, diabetes and hypertension, the study's lead author, Matthew Dupre, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University, told USA Today.

Researchers at Duke examined 13,451 men and women, ages 51 to 75, who were interviewed every two years from 1992 to 2010 as part of a national health and retirement study.

They found that the unemployed were 35 percent more likely to have a heart attack than their employed counterparts. The risks increased incrementally from 22 percent of a chance with one job loss to 63 percent of a chance with four or more job losses.

The risk of having a heart attack, however, was highest the first year of unemployment, experts found.

"Research shows that job stress can cause heart attacks, and now this study shows that not having a job causes heart attacks," Atlanta cardiologist Gina Lundberg, an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University who was not part of this study, told USA Today. "Right now, many Americans have stressful jobs or no job at all — and either way, it isn't good for their heart."

Studies have shown that unemployment results in substantial physiologic stress, Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, told U.S. News

"This stress has been associated with excess risk for cardiovascular events," he said. "And stress itself leads to a variety of pro-inflammatory responses that can be a causal pathway to increased cardiovascular events."

Less access to health care, as well as related excessive drinking or less exercising, Fonarow noted, may also play a role among the jobless. It's important for all people to maintain a healthy lifestyle, if at all possible.

"Explorations of these questions, however limited, should mark the beginning of the next period of research," Los Angeles Times reported.

Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News. She has lived in London and is an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at rachel.lowry@gmail.com or visit www.rachellowry.blogspot.com.
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