9/11 stress increased risk of heart problems

Stress brought on by the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington in 2001 led to heart problems for some Americans, even if they had no personal connection to the events, a study released on Monday found.

In the first study to demonstrate the impact of the attacks on cardiac health, researchers in California said acute stress responses were linked to a 53 percent increased incidence in strokes, high blood pressure and other cardiac ailments.

"Our study is the first to show that even among people who had no personal connection to the victims, those who reported high levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms in the days following the 9/11 attacks were more than twice as likely to report being diagnosed by their doctors with cardiovascular ailments like high blood pressure, heart problems and stroke up to three years later," said Alison Holman, a professor in nursing science and lead researcher for the study.

The study, carried out by Holman and researchers at the University of California, Irvine, is published in the January edition of Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study involved a random sample of almost 2,000 adults from across the country whose health status had been recorded before September 11, 2001.

The majority had watched the attacks on New York City's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington on live television but had no direct exposure to them.

They were interviewed immediately after September 11 and in follow-up surveys until late 2004. Risk factors such as cholesterol levels, diabetes, smoking and weight were taken into account along with stressful events like divorce.

Those taking part answered questions about their concerns, such as, "I worry that an act of terrorism will personally affect me or someone in my family."

People reporting such concerns were three to four times more likely to report a doctor-diagnosed heart problem two to three years after the attacks.

Holman said she was initially so surprised at the results that she re-ran the analysis different ways to confirm them before submitting the study for publication.

Holman said she was not in the United States when hijacked airplanes rammed into the Pentagon and the two World Trade Center Towers but she knew immediately she had to study the effects of the attacks on stress and health.

"It was the most major national collective trauma that the United States had had in decades and (I knew) it would represent very important questions for public policy makers and researchers about how the populace handles such stress," Holman said. ( Reuters )

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