The researchers found that before the attacks, 21.5 percent of the people had been diagnosed with a heart problem. But three years after the attacks, 30.5 percent reported heart problems.
Those who had acute stress responses to the 9/11 attacks had a 53 percent increased incidence of heart problems over the ensuing three years. This association held true even after compensating for risk factors for heart disease, existing heart and mental health problems before 9/11, and degree of exposure to the attacks.
Also, people who had high levels of stress immediately after the attacks were about twice as likely to develop high blood pressure, and about three times as likely to develop heart problems during the following two years, the researchers found.
People who continued to worry about terrorism after 9/11 had an increased risk for heart problems two to three years after the attacks, Holman said.
The findings are published in the January issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Holman said the findings may indicate the need to treat people who experience severe stress immediately after a similar attack, to prevent the development of both mental and physical problems.
"It's important that we think about not just mental health issues following a stressful event like this, but we have to consider ways that we can identify people who are at high risk for both physical and mental health disorders immediately after trauma," she said.
However, one expert thinks 9/11 was a unique event that produced a unique set of physical and mental problems, even for people not directly involved.
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