Feng discussed the patient with cardiology chief C. V. R. Reddy, M.D., which prompted researchers to study the link between psychological stress and cardiac events.
Investigators identified 425 patients who had been evaluated at the Brooklyn hospital for a possible heart attack or heart rhythm disturbance during the 60 days after the terrorist attacks. For comparison, they evaluated medical records of 428 patients evaluated for heart attack and cardiac arrhythmias in the two months before Sept. 11, 2001.
Before the terrorist attack date, 11.2 percent of the patients had a heart attack. After the terrorist attack date, 15.3 percent had diagnosed heart attacks, a 35 percent increase. The proportion of patients diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmias increased from 13.3 percent before the terrorist attack to 18.8 percent afterward a 40 percent increase.
In contrast, the proportion of patients with unstable angina (chest pain) decreased from 47.2 percent before Sept. 11, 2001, to 39.3 percent in the 60 days afterward.
"Our hypothesis is that the rate of unstable angina was lower because more patients with unstable angina progressed to acute heart attacks and acute cardiac arrhythmias," Feng said.
Researchers examined medical records for patients who received emergency cardiac evaluations during the same period in 2000. They found no differences in acute heart attack, cardiac arrhythmias, or unstable angina.
The findings have sparked interest in exploring other possible adverse heart effects related to the psychological trauma of the terrorist attacks.
Feng plans to extend the study to patients who have heart pacemakers or implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICD) implanted devices delivering electric shocks to the heart to correct rhythm disturbances.