EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - Women who work overnight shifts may be at a higher risk of heart disease according to new research from the American Medical Association.
The study followed 189,000 female nurses and found a connection to the times worked and a deadly disease which is already a leading killer of women.
"[I] Felt like I aged a lot, I look really young, but on the inside I felt a lot older than I was," Nurse Daniela Palacios said.
She spent more than five years working the night shift, and a recent blood panel revealed she was borderline for metabolic syndrome: an early sign of heart disease.
"It didn't occur to me until recently but the only other truly bad other thing in my life was that I worked night shift," Palacios said.
Research from the American Medical Association connected those dots too: finding female nurses working three or more nights a month and rotating shifts were at a greater risk of heart disease.
"The sleep cycle, not only the sleep cycle which affects your heart rate and blood pressure because it impacts the sleep but also the social, affects social life balance," U.T. Health Northeast cardiologist Dr. Sridevi Pitta said.
She describes night shift work and heart problems as a "vicious cycle," as poor sleep and poor eating habits add to the damage. In the two-decade-long study, more than 10,000 nurses developed heart disease.
"It was very scary considering what I did for a living," Palacios said.
Since learning about her risks in late March 2016, Palacios has since moved off nights and is trying to reverse the effects. Pitta said healthcare workers can take the research as a lesson.
"We get the patient first but we ignore ourselves as professionals to participate in the healthy living habits, I think this is a learning opportunity for all of us," Pitta said.
She added that she started advising her staff about the dangers found in the research, and is looking for a way to balance shifts better. Palacios said she is waiting on new tests to see if the changes she has made to her routine has improved her health.