NEW ORLEANS, La. – In the ten years after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, hospital admissions for heart attacks in the city were three times higher than they were before the storm, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2016.
“After Hurricane Katrina devastated our city, the cardiology department found that we had very busy on-call nights,” said Anand Irimpen, M.D., study lead author and professor of medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine and chief of cardiology at Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System in New Orleans, Louisiana. “We were being called into the hospital for heart attacks much more often than during pre-Katrina days. So, I suggested to our cardiology fellows that we study the data to look at this phenomenon objectively to determine whether this was a real increase or only a perception.”
Investigators found that hospital admissions to Tulane Medical Center for heart attacks increased three-folds in the 10 years after Katrina, compared to the two years before the storm in August 2005.
People increased smoking habits and were more likely to have other risks for heart attack including coronary artery disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure in the wake of Katrina.
“Although the general emphasis after an event such as Katrina is on rebuilding, we should not neglect the health of those affected by a disaster,” Irimpen said. “This massive natural disaster may have had a greater impact on the development of chronic medical diseases than originally realized.”
But health risks also included higher rates of psychiatric disease and an increase in drug abuse compared to pre-Katrina.
Since the study was observational, it only found an association between Katrina and an increase in heart attacks, not a cause of the increase. In addition to this limitation, the study involved patients at a single hospital and could not control for all possible influences on heart attack risk since data relied on medical records of past heart attacks.