Jump in Heart Attacks Seen After 9/11

New York City hospital had increase in patients for two months following terrorist attacks

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WEDNESDAY, Nov. 12, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- In the two months following the Sept. 11, 2003, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, there was a sharp increase in the number of heart attack patients treated at the New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn.

That suggests psychological stress can trigger serious heart problems, says a study presented Nov. 12 at the American Heart Association's annual conference in Orlando, Fla.

In the 60 days after the terrorist attacks, there were 35 percent more heart attack cases and 40 percent more irregular heartbeat cases seen at the hospital.

Lead author Dr. Jianwei Feng, a cardiology fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center, says in a prepared statement that psychological stress increases stress hormones. That means people with heart disease are at greater risk of serious cardiac events when they suffer emotional stress.

Heart attacks and irregular heartbeats (cardiac arrhythmias) are both related to a surge in stress hormones called catecholamines, which stimulate nerve chemicals.

"Any time a person experiences psychological or emotional stress, catecholamine levels rise, which increases heart rate and blood pressure," Feng says.

That may have serious consequences for people with heart disease or with heart attack risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

"Drugs that help control catecholamines, such as beta blockers, may reduce the risk in patients with cardiac disease and cardiac risk factors," Feng says.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about stress and health.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Nov. 12, 2003

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