Young Swedish sailors die more often than others in cardiovascular disease

Men under the age of 46 who work on deck or engine departments are at increased risk of dying of cardiovascular disease and almost a doubled risk of dying from stroke compared to others. This according to a new Swedish study published in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health.


Are you at greater risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke if you work as a seafarer? It depends on. When the researchers behind the study first analyzed 85,000 Swedish seamen, no elevated risks were found.

“But as a researcher, you always have to go further in your analyzes. So we divided the sailors into two groups: those who worked on passenger ships and those who worked on different types of vessels”, Helena Eriksson, chief physician, Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Sahlgrenska, says.

Then they discovered differences. For those who worked solely on passenger ships, there was no increased risk of death in cardiovascular disease, while there was in the other group - especially among men who were under 46 years of age and who worked on deck or engine departments.

“It was surprising. We had thought that the risk would increase in higher age.”

Are there any thoughts as to why this particular group of young men is affected?

“In general, more men than women suffer from cardiovascular disease. Since this is a registry study with statistical results, we can only speculate on the factors behind it, but it is clear that the working environment looks different depending on what you are working with”, Helena Eriksson says.

“In addition to lifestyle, noise is a risk factor for developing myocardial infarction, as well as shift work and stress.”

Although the young men are at higher risk of dying than others, they are not at higher risk of falling ill. How does that equation go together? It is probably not just about, which is easy to believe, that you are out at sea and far from health care.

“It must also be taken into account that this concerns a certain age group. Why exactly do these men die? And why exactly those who have worked 10 to 20 years at sea within certain occupational categories?

The study failed to show any reliable statistics on the increased risk of female sailors dying of cardiovascular disease. However, just like the men, they run an increased risk of dying.

“We do not know what this is due to and why the total mortality is increased. The next step for us is to seek funding to be able to investigate it, ” Helena Eriksson says.


Footnote: The article Mortality from cardiovascular disease in a cohort of Swedish seafarers has been authored by Helena Eriksson, Karl Forsell and Eva Andersson