BACKGROUND: On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, leaving many homeless and helpless. Now, a new study reveals the stress some of the victims endured may still be contributing to health problems. Researchers at Tulane University Hospital and Clinic found there was a three-fold increase in the rate of heart attacks treated at the hospital since the storm. In the two years before Katrina, the researchers found heart attacks accounted for 150 of the 21,229 patients admitted to the hospital. In the two years since the hospital re-opened in 2006, there were 246 heart attacks out of 11,282 patients. The post-Katrina heart attack patients were also more likely to need surgery or artery-opening procedures and less likely to have jobs or medical insurance than the pre-storm patients. Many studies have documented increases in heart attacks after a major disaster, but researchers say this may be the first one to show that the increase can happen years later.
POSSIBLE CAUSES: The researchers found post-Katrina patients were more likely to smoke or to abuse drugs or alcohol. They were also less likely to be taking medicine prescribed to ward off strokes or heart attacks. Anand Irimpen, M.D., a cardiologist at Tulane and the study's senior author, says these bad habits, which may increase under stress, could be a contributing factor. Dr. Irimpen suggested conducting the study because he noticed he was being called in much more often to treat heart attacks at Tulane.
OTHER STUDIES: Other recent studies have also shown a link between stress and poor heart health. One recent report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed people who have had one heart attack and reported lots of job stress were twice as likely as others to have another heart attack or coronary heart disease event. Another study presented at the American Heart Association's conference in March, 2009 revealed people who have a heart attack are more than three-times as likely to have been in traffic within an hour of the onset of their symptoms. The researchers noted that the increased exposure to air pollution and stress could be to blame. A different study conducted by investigators from Yale University found individuals over 50 years old who lose their jobs have double the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
THE ECONOMY AND HEALTH: Some experts believe stress brought on by the current state of the economy could also have an impact on people's health. Charles Figley, Ph.D., a trauma expert at Tulane, told Ivanhoe, "As a consequence, we're going to have more of these kinds of problems in terms of myocardial infarcts, sleeping disorders, anxiety, and substance abuse." Experts say it's important to remember to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep and see your doctor for preventive screenings.
* For More Information, Contact:
Keith Brannon, Public Relations
New Orleans, LA
Copyright 2009 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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