-- Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, July 10 (HealthDay News) -- Shift work may raise a
woman's risk of menstrual and fertility problems, and steady night
shifts may boost the odds for miscarriage, a new study
The findings support the notion that "for those women seeking
pregnancy, a healthy, regular routine is paramount," said Dr. Jill
Rabin, chief of ambulatory care, obstetrics and gynecology at Long
Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. She was not
involved in the research.
In the new study, British researchers analyzed all studies on
shift work and reproduction published between 1969 and 2013. The
data from more than 119,000 women revealed that those working
shifts (alternating shifts, evenings and nights) had a 33 percent
higher risk of menstrual problems and an 80 percent higher risk of
fertility problems than those who worked regular hours.
Women who worked only nights did not have a statistically
increased risk of menstrual or fertility problems, but they did
have an increased risk of miscarriage, the team found. This greater
risk of miscarriage was not seen in women who worked nights as part
of a shift pattern.
The study was presented July 9 at the annual meeting of the
European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, in
According to the researchers, one possible explanation for the
findings is that shift work's disruption of the body's circadian
rhythm can affect the biological function of "clock genes," which
have been shown to be associated with changes in biological
The findings add to previous studies that found shift work can
have harmful effects in later pregnancy, the authors noted in a
society news release. If replicated in further research, these new
"findings have implications for women attempting to become
pregnant, as well as for their employers," wrote the team led by
Dr. Linden Stocker, of the University of Southampton.
For her part, Rabin agreed that changes to the body's "clock
genes" might throw off biological functions, including those linked
to reproduction. And she said that while the study cannot prove
that shift work causes these disruptions, the findings "are in
keeping with other studies which found adverse effects of night
shift work in late pregnancy."
Another expert said the stress of fluctuating work hours might
also play a role.
"Stress, in and of itself, can alter the cycle of normal female hormone production -- ultimately contributing to poor reproductive outcomes, menstrual irregularities, low birth weight infants, infertility and preterm labor," said Dr. Kecia Gaither, director of maternal fetal medicine at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in New York City. "Stress may manifest in various forms, such as a lack of sleep," she added.
Not everyone can change their jobs, however, so "women in these
work circumstances should consider paying closer attention to some
warning signs, such as menstrual irregularities (deviation from
normal cycle frequency/duration), in order to prevent any future
reproductive issues," Gaither said.
Other steps women might take to reduce their risk would be:
seeing their doctor about any reproductive issues, cutting back on
coffee or alcohol, "and perhaps simply finding time for consistent
downtime with naps," she suggested.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more
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