These studies are scheduled for presentation Thursday at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, in San Francisco.
The Katrina study examined admissions to Tulane University Hospital and found that heart attacks represented 2.4 percent of patients in the six and a half years after the hurricane and less than 1 percent in the two years before.
Also, the post-hurricane heart attack patients had sicker hearts and were more likely to have other problems such as depression, addiction and unemployment.
"It could be that the whole milieu has changed," said Irimpen, the study lead author. "There are sicker patients having more coronary artery disease and are on more medications."
Could it be that New Orleans simply has more poor residents now who perhaps don't take care of themselves or have good insurance? Irimpen said the city actually has a wealthier population than before. "The people who came back are the ones who could afford to rebuild," he said.
Irimpen, who said the increase in heart attacks was higher than the researchers expected, blames stress as the trigger.
What do the findings mean? The immediate consequences of disasters grab attention, Edmondson said, but they also "usher in much longer periods of struggle for economic and psychological well-being, which take a heavy toll on the cardiovascular system."
Currently, he added, "We rarely count these long-term health outcomes in our reckoning of the costs of disasters, but perhaps we should."
Another study scheduled for presentation at the meeting found that heart attacks and sudden deaths spiked in Japan after the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. Researchers attribute th
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