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Mental Stress May Hurt the Heart

Study Shows Decreased Coronary Blood Flow in Some Heart Patients

Impact of Wars and Disasters

Mental stress is not officially recognized as a contributing factor in heart disease by many health groups, including the American Heart Association.

While acknowledging that "managing stress makes sense for a person's overall health," it is the AHA's position, a spokeswoman tells WebMD, that there is not yet enough clinical evidence to recommend the use of stress management for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence linking mental stress to heart attacks and sudden death from cardiovascular causes, however, including reports of dramatic rises in such deaths after disasters like Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, and the bombing of Israel during the first Gulf War.

Six months after Hurricane Katrina, it is apparent that many victims died not from the hurricane, but from physical causes brought on by the stresses associated with it.

According to Louis Cataldie, MD, who is acting state medical examiner for Louisiana, a disproportionate number of the roughly 1,300 confirmed Katrina deaths occurred among older people, and most victims did not drown.

In an interview with WebMD, Cataldie confirmed previous news reports that nearly 40% of the victims were over the age of 70. Almost 200 of the victims were evacuees who died outside the state within about a month of the hurricane.

Although the exact cause of death for many Katrina victims will never be known, Cataldie says mental stresses probably played a role in many deaths.

"That certainly seems to be the case," he says.

In a 1991 study, researchers in Israel reported a sharp rise in heart attacks and sudden deaths in Tel Aviv during the Iraqi missile attacks of the first Gulf War. They noted that the increase lasted only a few days, after which time the incidence of heart attacks and deaths returned to normal.

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