'If you keep working, you will die': London bankers in their 20s and 30s are having more heart attacks, doctors say

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  • Bankers in their 20s and 30s are being admitted to the hospital more frequently with cardiac conditions and heart attacks, cardiologists in the UK told Business Insider.
  • One doctor estimated he’s seen a 10% rise in bankers under 30 being admitted to the hospital in the last decade.
  • One former banker shared her experience with Business Insider in which she suffered a cardiac event in her early-20’s after frequently working until 4 a.m. 
  • This all comes even as big banks are trying to reduce stress for junior employees. 

As a second-year analyst at a major European bank, Laura frequently worked until 4 a.m., suffered a cardiac event, and was hospitalized three times in two years. She said she was told by doctors “if you keep working, you will die.”

Laura isn’t the finance professional’s real name. She asked Business Insider not to name her or the bank for fear of retribution. In describing her time at the bank, she said she worked day and night, and was stopped from taking sick days off even after getting a throat infection which eventually spread to her heart in a case of infective endocarditis.

In the early hours one Monday morning in 2015, she shot up in bed with pain in her chest. “I was having basically a heart attack,” she said. She previously had good health and didn’t take drugs.

She left the bank soon after. 

“My husband told me to get out [saying] ‘the money’s not worth it,'” she said.

Young bankers are facing health issues

Young bankers in their 20’s and 30’s are being admitted to the hospital more frequently with heart conditions and heart attacks, cardiologists in the UK told Business Insider

Dr. Arjun Ghosh, a consultant cardiologist at Barts Heart Centre in London estimated that in the last decade, he’s seen a 10% rise in heart attacks among bankers under the age of 30. Around one in ten of his patients in this age range work in finance.

This is happening even as banks have put in measures to reduce the workload and stress of their junior staff, such as requiring Saturdays be taken off, following the death of a Bank of America intern in 2013.

Despite the recent efforts of big banks to reduce the working hours of their employees, Dr. Syed Ahsan, a cardiologist with a clinic in Canary Wharf, said he hasn’t seen evidence of change.

“In investment banking, I think whatever they [the banks] say… the hours and the pressure that is put on these guys is huge. So as much as they may be doing things to improve — I don’t think it’s changed at all,” he said.

To be sure, the increase in heart attacks among young bankers reflects similar trends in the population at large, the cardiologists say, although there hasn’t yet been formal research published to reflect this.

“It’s so common now —  young people getting a heart attack. This is common enough not to be shocking… It’s not ‘Oh my god, they’re only 25!’,” Dr. Ahmed Elghamaz, a consultant cardiologist at London North West University Hospital said. “We are not shocked anymore.”

The increase is perhaps a result of an unhealthy, busy lifestyle with people working longer hours then they have in the past, Dr. Elghamaz said.

Doctors say they regularly see young bankers with two types of heart conditions — cardiac arrhythmia and myocarditis, both of which can lead to a fatal heart attack and can be made more likely by excessive work, stress, and drug use.

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart, which can be caused by stress or a viral infection that spreads through the body eventually infecting the heart, and arrhythmia is an uneven heart rhythm that can be brought on by tension and drug use.

The most common of the two heart conditions in bankers under 30 is myocarditis, Business Insider was told, and some of the cardiologists said they see it most in people that have a weakened immune system due to fatigue and unhealthy living.

The Whitehall Study, conducted by University College London’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, followed more than 10,000 British civil servants since the mid-1980s and showed that workers under 50 who were chronically stressed were 68% more likely to suffer a heart attack or chest pain.

There’s a culture of drug taking 

A culture of drug taking in corporate environments also plays a factor.

Dr. Ashan said he recently treated a banker with heart problems in his late-20s. “He was using increasing amounts of cocaine working 12 to 14 hour a day, barely sleeping and he came in with episodes of blacking out and palpitations,” he said.

Trends that the three cardiologists shared with BI are anecdotal, but they called for more research to be done into cardiac conditions in young people, and their relationship to stress and the work environment.

Professor Alexandra Michel, a scholar in organizational and behavioral research at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied the health and psychology of investment bankers for over 15 years.

In one piece of research published in 2012 by Administrative Science Quarterly, she followed four groups of investment bankers at two different banks from the start of their careers and tracked their progression over 10 years. At their fourth year, every banker involved in the study had developed a mental or physical health problem.

“Not only are there are new types of illnesses, many of them having to do with burn-out, but also illness that people typically get later in life, they now get earlier in life. And so I’m observing in these young bankers a whole cluster of health issues,” Michel told Business Insider.

The work practices on Wall Street, which involve a super fast-paced environment in which employees are tied to their electronic devices 24/7, are spreading to other industries as well. This may bring about a whole new set of health issues to workers outside finance, Michel said. 

The doctors called for more research to be done and action to be taken.

“There’s got to be more research into the direct impact of working conditions, working hours, work stress and how that correlates with cardiac events,” Dr. Ashan said.

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