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Heart Attacks Spiked in NYC After 9/11

Surge Suggests That Psychological Stress Can Trigger Heart Attacks
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Nov. 12, 2003 -- The number of heart attacks at a Brooklyn hospital surged by 35% in the two months following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center only a few miles away in Manhattan.

Researchers say the findings suggest that major psychological stress can trigger a cascade of biological events in the body that can lead to serious heart problems, especially in people with risk factors such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

Previous studies have shown that people living in close proximity to the World Trade Center experienced higher stress and stress-related disorders after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 than those who lived further away.

Researchers say that type of psychological trauma stimulates stress hormones in the body, such as catecholamine, that increase the heart rate and blood pressure and can trigger a heart attack in people at risk.

Heart Attacks Surge After Stressful Events

Researcher Jianwei Feng, MD, conducted the study as a resident at New York Methodist Hospital, which is about four miles away from the World Trade Center in a tree-lined residential neighborhood in Brooklyn. He says that the day after the attack, he admitted a middle-aged man complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath.

"The man told me he was about a block away from the Twin Towers when the attack occurred," says Feng in a news release. "Initially, he was OK, but the more he watched the TV reports about the attack, the more upset he became. He began to have heart palpitations and shortness of breath."

That patient got Feng thinking about the link between psychological stress and heart attack and began the study, which was presented this week at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2003 in Orlando, Fla.

Surge Suggests That Psychological Stress Can Trigger Heart Attacks

Researchers looked at 425 patients who had been evaluated at the hospital for a possible heart attack or heart rhythm disturbance (cardiac arrhythmias) in the 60 days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and compared them with the medical records of 428 patients who were evaluated for similar heart problems in the two months before 9/11.

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