FRIDAY, Dec. 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Hurricane Sandy, which pummeled much of the East Coast in 2012, also may have triggered a rise in heart attacks and strokes, a study of New Jersey residents shows.
Researchers found that eight of the hardest-hit counties in the state had 22 percent more heart attacks in the two weeks after the hurricane than during the same time period in the prior five years.
On the other hand, there was only a 1 percent spike in cases in the 13 counties that escaped the full fury of the storm, the study found.
Although the study was not designed to determine cause-and-effect, the researchers also found that the 30-day death rate from heart attacks jumped 31 percent in the hardest-hit counties, post-Sandy.
Overall, "we estimate that there were 69 more deaths from [heart attack] during the two weeks following Sandy than would have been expected," study leader Joel Swerdel, an epidemiologist at Rutgers University, said in a university news release. "This is a significant increase over typical non-emergency periods," he added.
"Our hope is that the research may be used by the medical community, particularly emergency medical services, to prepare for the change in volume and severity of health incidents during extreme weather events," Swerdel said.
The hardest-hit counties also had 7 percent more strokes in the two weeks after the storm than during the same time period in the previous five years, the Rutgers team found. There was no increase in strokes in the 13 counties less affected by Sandy.
The study was published Dec. 8 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
"Hurricane Sandy had unprecedented environmental, financial and health consequences on New Jersey and its residents, all factors that can increase the risk of cardiovascular events," Dr. John Kostis, director of the Cardiovascular Institute of New Jersey and associate dean for cardiovascular research at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said in the news release.
"Increased stress and physical activity, dehydration and a decreased attention or ability to manage one's own medical needs probably caused cardiovascular events during natural disasters or extreme weather," he suggested.
"Also, the disruption of communication services, power outages, gas shortages and road closures, also were contributing factors to efficiently obtaining medical care," Kostis added.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about disaster preparation and recovery.