March 17, 2010 (Atlanta) -- When the stock market dips, your heart health may, too. New research hints at a link between market volatility and rising heart attack rates.
Duke University researchers found that as the stock market went into turmoil from July 2008 to January 2009, heart attacks appeared to increase at their North Carolina hospital. Then, rates started to drop from January through July 2009, when signs of recovery appeared.
Since some research suggests that heart attacks go up in winter, the researchers then adjusted the analysis to take into account seasons of the year. The trend weakened, meaning the link could have been due to chance.
Still, it makes sense that a recession would bring on heart ailments, says James McClurken, MD, a cardiologist at Temple University in Philadelphia who was not involved with the work.
"I'm surprised that the seasons blunted the link between stock market declines and heart attacks to the point it did," he tells WebMD. McClurken is co-chairman of the committee that chose which studies to highlight at the American College of Cardiology meeting, where the findings were released.
"It's well known that stressors -- physical and emotional -- can be dangerous for the heart," he says. "I think their first finding was real."
Other stressful events, including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and sporting events, are associated with higher heart attack rates, says Mona Fiuzat, PharmD, of Duke, who led the study.
But few studies have looked at how economic trends affect heart disease, she tells WebMD.
The Duke study involved more than 2,500 people who had heart attacks. Heart attacks rates during three-month periods were plotted against the Nasdaq composite index during each period.
Fiuzat says she chose the Nasdaq "because it best reflects small businesses ... the average person."
The researchers plan to conduct a larger study, over a longer period of time, to look at the relationship between economic downturns and heart attack rates.