Individuals who experienced severe stress-related symptoms in response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 appear more likely to have been diagnosed with heart problems over the following three years, according to a report in the January issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
“Extremely stressful events may precipitate biological processes that increase one’s risk of developing cardiovascular ailments,” the authors write as background information in the article. “While acute stress may trigger immediate potentially lethal cardiovascular responses, acute, subacute and chronic stress can gradually increase cardiovascular risk through neurohormonal arousal. This physiologic reactivity may be easily rekindled by trauma reminders, leaving individuals vulnerable to the detrimental effects of arousal over time.”
E. Alison Holman, F.N.P., Ph.D., of the
Before the attacks, 21.5 percent of the participants had been diagnosed with a heart ailment; three years after the attacks, the rate had increased to 30.5 percent. “Acute stress responses to the 9/11 attacks were associated with a 53 percent increased incidence of cardiovascular ailments over the three subsequent years, even after adjusting for pre-9/11 cardiovascular and mental health status, degree of exposure to the attacks, cardiovascular risk factors (i.e. smoking, body mass index and number of endocrine ailments), total number of physical health ailments, somatization [the conversion of psychological symptoms into physical symptoms] and demographics,” the authors write.
Participants who reported high levels of acute stress immediately after the attacks were about twice as likely to report being diagnosed with hypertension and about three times as likely to report a diagnosis of heart problems over the following two years. “Among individuals reporting ongoing worry about terrorism post-9/11, high 9/11–related acute stress symptoms predicted increased risk of physician-diagnosed heart problems two to three years following the attacks,” the authors write.
“These findings highlight the possibility that acute stress reactions may indicate subsequent vulnerability to potentially serious health problems,” they conclude.
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008; 65(1):73-80