Residents of New Orleans remained three-times more likely to suffer a heart attack for years after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, killing about 1,000 people and scattering the city’s population.
The first long-term look at the hurricane’s impact on health in the region found 2.2 percent of 29,228 patients admitted to Tulane University Hospital in the four years after Katrina experienced a heart attack, compared with 0.7 percent of the 21,229 hospitalizations two years earlier. Researchers presented the findings today at the American College of Cardiology meeting in New Orleans.
Psychiatric conditions such as depression, bipolar and anxiety disorders seemed to increase the risk, which the study’s lead researcher Anand Irimpen is calling “Post-Katrina Stress Disorder.” While those illnesses didn’t have a significant effect on heart attack rates for the first two years after Hurricane Katrina, there appears to be a delayed impact that is now taking hold, he said in a statement.
“To our surprise, the persistent three-fold increase in heart attack risk has occurred in the absence of any change in traditional risk factors, for example age, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes,” said Irimpen, associate professor at Tulane University’s Heart and Vascular Institute. “Certainly chronic stress appears to play an ongoing role.”
Many patients haven’t returned to their original homes or jobs and aren’t taking care of their health, according to Irimpen, who is also chief of cardiology at Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System. The post-Katrina heart attack patients were more likely to be unemployed, have no insurance, smoke and report substance abuse, the researchers found.