March 27, 2009

Hurricane stress linked to heart attacks

Researchers say chronic stress related to Hurricane Katrina has contributed to a significant increase in heart attacks in New Orleans.

The study, which analyzed the number of heart attack patients admitted to Tulane Medical Center two years before the storm and two years after the hospital reopened, found a three-fold increase in heart attacks and a 120 percent increase in coronary interventions, such as angioplasty, after Katrina struck in August 2005.

The post-Katrina patients had significantly higher rates of unemployment, lack of medical insurance, medication noncompliance, smoking and substance abuse, Tulane University said in a release.

Researchers said the study suggests the heart attacks were related to reduced access to preventive health services, combined with chronic stress due to prolonged loss of employment, insurance coverage and housing.

Tulane cardiologist Dr. Anand Irimpen said the stress of life after Katrina may have fostered bad health practices. After a major disaster, people generally tend to neglect their health because they have other priorities, Irimpen said. That can lead to serious consequences.

The findings were to be presented Sunday at an American College of Cardiology meeting in Orlando, Fla.