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Hurricane Katrina Linked to Heart Health, Study Reports

Update Date: Mar 26, 2014 01:29 PM EDT

Hurricane Katrina destroyed many homes and lives in 2005 when it struck the United States Gulf Coast. In a new study, researchers examined the incidence rate of heart attacks at a New Orleans hospital. The team discovered that even after years have passed, the hospital still cares for more than the usual amount of heart attack patients.

For this study, the researchers examined the number of heart attack patients at Tulane Medical center. Before the storm wreaked havoc in this region of America, around 0.7 percent of the patients at Tulane Medical center were treated for heart attack. After the storm, that percentage rose and continued to rise.

According to the lead author of the study, Dr. Matthew Peters, who is an internal medicine resident at Tulane University School of Medicine, there were 1,177 heart attacks in the six years after the storm hit. Peters calculated that within three years after the storm, the percentage of heart attack patients at the center increased to two percent. By years four through six, roughly 2.4 percent of the patients at the center sought care for a heart attack.

The researchers stated that the rise in heart attacks could be tied to the increased stress levels caused by the hurricane. On top of chronic stress, the researchers believe that higher unemployment rates could also be a contributing factor. Other variables that could be at play but are not necessarily tied to the storm are smoking, drug use, alcohol abuse, mental illness, and prescription drug use. The researchers also discovered that after the storm, more heart attacks occurred at night or during the weekends.

"We found more patients without insurance, who were unemployed and more who had a previous history of coronary artery disease, showing us that the milieu of patients was a sicker population," the senior author Dr. Anand Irimpen, an associate professor of medicine for the Tulane Heart and Vascular Institute, said according to Medical Xpress.

The study was published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

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