By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Unemployment hurts more than your wallet, it may damage your heart. A new study shows unemployment can take a big toll on a person’s health. Researchers found people who lost their jobs were at a greater risk of suffering a heart attack.

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The study didn’t look at the reasons behind the increased risk, but stress likely plays a big part.

Thirty-nine-year-old Anurag Mehta suffered a heart attack six years ago. He had just started a new job but thinks the time he spent unemployed contributed to his health problems.

“A lot of it was diet and lack of exercise and hereditary stuff, but I think that when you combine that with some stresses that you may not even know you have because of the type of work environment you’re in or whatever, I think that all of it combined,” said Anurag.

A new study finds unemployment significantly increases a person’s risk of having a heart attack. Researchers at Duke University found the risk was highest within the first year of losing a job.

“When one gets unemployed the risk that it creates is very similar to having the risk of high blood pressure or diabetes,” said Dr. Ravi Dave, a Cardiologist.

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Researchers also found a person’s cardiac risk goes up with each additional job loss.

“There is an increase in financial stress, loss of health coverage likely in these patients, chronic anxiety, social withdrawal from friends,” said Dr. Dave.

Anurag is thankful he’s been steadily employed for a year now.

“It helps also not only with stress, but it helps you get in a routine,” said Anurag.

He hopes his job will help keep both finances and heart in good health.

More than 12 million Americans are looking for work. Doctors say it’s critically important for them to pay attention to health issues. They are sometimes eligible for special programs or discounts to cover doctor appointments or medications.

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