In the 60 days after the terrorist attacks, New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn treated 35 percent more heart attacks and 40 percent more tachyarrhythmias (irregular heart beats) than in the 60 days before the attacks, said Jianwei Feng, M.D., lead author of the study. Feng is now a cardiology fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.
Because psychological stress increases stress hormones, people with heart disease face greater risks of serious cardiac events during emotional stress, he said. Heart attacks and cardiac arrhythmias are both related to a surge in stress hormones known as catecholamines, which stimulate nerve chemicals.
"Anytime a person experiences psychological or emotional stress, catecholamine levels rise, which increases heart rate and blood pressure," he said.
The risks associated with psychological or emotional trauma have potentially major implications for people with heart diseases and risk factors, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
"Drugs that help control catecholamines, such as beta blockers, may reduce the risk in patients with cardiac disease and cardiac risk factors," Feng said.
When the New York terrorist attacks occurred, Feng was a resident at New York Methodist Hospital, located about four miles from the World Trade Center's twin towers. The day after the attacks, Feng admitted a middle-aged man complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath.
"The man told me that he was about a block away from the Twin Towers when the attack occurred," Feng said. "Initially, he was OK, but the more he watched the TV reports about
Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association