Researchers at Tulane University have found a three-fold increase in heart attacks six years after Hurricane Katrina. The findings link stress from the storm and several other factors to the increase.
Senior study author Dr. Anand Irimpen says the study began after staff at the Tulane Medical Center noticed an increase in patients suffering heart attacks.
And the timing was unusual: more on nights and weekends, which normally see fewer admissions.
“Generally it’s on the weekday mornings — when people go back to work, they are stressed," he said. "But I feel that after Katrina, people were stressed going home because they had to deal with the rebuilding and getting their home together, and work was relatively a stress relief.”
Prior to Katrina, heart attacks accounted for less than one percent of the patients. That increased to two percent three years after the storm, and rose to almost three percent six years after Katrina.
“We thought by six years we were going to see a trend downward, and we were equally surprised that it has still persisted even six years later," he said.
Dr. Irimpen says other factors for the increase are the disruption Katrina caused in regular medical care, especially for heart conditions, and more substance abuse and unhealthy eating.
He says the study shows that maintaining medical care after a disaster should be a top priority in the response.