Those killed or injured at the Boston Marathon will not be the only victims of the bombing attack, says a top cardiologist. Research after previous public traumas shows that witnesses – even those watching on TV – are at heightened risk for heart attack and stroke in the coming weeks, according to Chauncey Crandall, M.D.
“We know based on previous studies that the incidence of heart attack becomes very high due to the stress of the events,” said Dr. Crandall, head of the cardiac transplant program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic. “You don’t even have to be in the vicinity to be affected. I could tell that from my patients yesterday. Everyone was coming into the examining room with heightened blood pressure and anxiety just from watching the news reports on the bombing on the television in the waiting room.”
On Monday, explosives went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and leaving more than 100 injured. Studies done after Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 show that the incidence of heart attacks rises dramatically in the weeks after such traumas.
When people are faced with sudden stress, their bodies respond by releasing hormones that raise heart rate and blood pressure, according to Dr. Crandall. This can cause heart attacks and strokes, especially in those with underlying coronary artery disease, known also as atherosclerosis, which causes deposits of plaque in the arteries that can break off and block blood flow. When this occurs in the heart, the result is a heart attack, but it can also occur in the brain as well, causing a stroke.
Research shows that the increase in heart attacks and strokes can last up to a year after the traumatic event, said Dr. Crandall,.
In March, a pair of studies were released at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting that showed a spike in heart attack rates in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the financial crisis in Greece. A previous study done in New Orleans showed a three-fold spike in heart attacks occurred following Hurricane Katrina. Research has also found increased heart attack rates following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and Japan’s tsunami in 2011.
People especially at risk are the elderly and those with underlying heart disease, as well as anyone vulnerable to anxiety.
“Turn off the TV and go to ‘softer’ news sources, like the newspaper, and limit your media fixes,” advises Dr. Crandall. “Watching such events on television raises anxiety levels. This risk is real. I saw it in my office today.”