NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours

Diseases and Shift Work (Continued)

Gastrointestinal Disorders

x-ray of small and large intestines

Compared with day workers, shift workers more frequently report gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms: abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, change in appetite (either increased or decreased), indigestion, and heartburn.59,60 If you note onset of those symptoms, seek medical attention to treat and relieve them. Several GI disorders, such as ulcers, have higher incidence rates among shift workers.59,60 One study showed an association between shift work and colon cancer.61

Poor sleep is a possible mechanism for the link between shift work and GI findings:59,60

  • Working when you are normally asleep disrupts GI motility and secretory functions involved in digesting food. The GI system works by the body’s circadian clock and functions poorly when food is eaten at the “wrong” time.
  • Fatigue could lead to stress and its negative effects.
  • Changes in immune system functioning may allow proliferation of unhealthy organisms.
  • The poor selection of foods available during night shifts may be a contributing factor.
Module: 3, Page 17 of 28
Page last reviewed: March 31, 2020