Disaster Heart Attacks

Disaster Heart Attacks

Reported June 30, 2009

NEW ORLEANS (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Almost four years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is on the road to recovery. Homes and businesses are rebuilding, but there’s still a long way to go. Now, a new study suggests that the hurricane may have been as damaging to residents’ hearts as it was to their homes.


For Gerard Guilliot, gutting and rebuilding his flooded out home after Hurricane Katrina has been a monumental task. More than two years that put plenty of stress on his heart.


“I thought I was fine until the last couple of heart attacks,” Guilliot told Ivanhoe.


Lawrence Thompson had a heart attack just a few days ago. He, too, believes Katrina was a factor.


“Well, that could be, you know, because we had a ‘lotta problems, you know,”


Thompson told Ivanhoe.


Anand Irimpen, M.D., a cardiologist at Tulane University Medical Center in New Orleans, says Guilliot and Thompson are part of a continuing trend.



Dr. Irimpen’s research found that in the two years after Katrina, heart attacks in New Orleans increased three-fold compared to pre-Katrina.


“We find that the patients post-Katrina had an increased incidence of smoking, non-compliance with medications, unemployment,” Dr. Irimpen told Ivanhoe.


The victims also experienced stress. Researchers say, over time, natural disasters disrupt living arrangements, finances, marriages — changes that rank high on the scale of life’s most stressful events.


Some experts predict the current financial crisis will have the same effect.


“As a consequence, we’re going to have more of these kinds of problems in terms of myocardial infarcts, sleeping disorders, anxiety, substance abuse,”


Charles Figley, Ph.D., Professor of Disaster Mental Health at Tulane, told Ivanhoe.


It’s a sobering reminder that a disaster can be as damaging to our health as it is to our homes.


Dr. Irimpen says his research on Katrina victims could be the first to show that traumatic events can have long-term health effects. Now in its third year, the Tulane study is continuing to follow the trends in New Orleans to see when or if the number of post-Katrina heart attacks will start going down.


Keith Brannon, Public Relations
Tulane University
New Orleans, LA