March 10, 2004 -- While New York City struggled with the heartache caused by the events of the World Trade Center attack, researchers say many heart patients across the nation may have dealt with a real blow to their hearts.
A new study shows that the number of shocks delivered by implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) to prevent potentially deadly heartbeat irregularities nearly tripled among a group of heart patients in Florida in the month after 9/11.
Researchers say previous studies have shown that the frequency of ICD shocks spiked among heart patients living in the New York City area in the wake of 9/11, but this is the first study to show a similar effect among people living hundreds of miles away from Ground Zero.
"This is the first time after a tragedy has occurred in our country that anybody has looked to see whether it affects patients all across the country," says researcher Omer Shedd, MD, a postdoctoral fellow in cardiovascular medicine at the University of Florida's College of Medicine, in a news release. "The implications are that the event had a much more widespread effect than previously recognized."
Shock of 9/11 Felt Nationwide
In the study, researchers reviewed the medical records of 132 Floridians with ICDs who were seen for routine checkups in the month before and the month after 9/11.
ICDs are commonly prescribed for people with unstable heart rhythms. The device is implanted in the chest and works by detecting the unstable rhythms and delivering a small electrical jolt to correct them.
Researchers say about 80,000 people receive an ICD each year, and about 400,000 people die from unstable heart rhythms (also known as arrhythmias) each year.
The study showed that 11% of the patients experienced an abnormal heart rhythm in the four weeks following 9/11 compared with only 3.5% in the month before the event.
"There are some data to suggest that a lot of arrhythmias are anxiety-driven," says Shedd. "When people become anxious, the levels of certain hormones in the body increase, and that can trigger rhythm problems and heart problems."
Researchers says these findings provide additional evidence that stress can affect both the mind and the heart, and people with existing heart problems should seek psychological help to reduce their risk of complications in the aftermath of national or personal tragedies.
The results of the study were presented this week at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Session 2004 in New Orleans.