After Hurricane Sandy, a Spike in Heart Attacks

January 9, 2015 Updated: January 8, 2015

Natural disasters like earthquakes and floods can have a significant impact on cardiovascular events, including heart attack and stroke.

New research shows that in the two weeks following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, there was a 22 percent increase in the number of heart attacks and strokes in the high-impact areas of New Jersey.

For the study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers used the Myocardial Infarction Data Acquisition System (MIDAS) to examine changes in the incidence of and mortality from myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) and strokes from 2007 to 2012 for the two weeks before and after Oct. 29, the date of Hurricane Sandy.

MIDAS is an administrative database containing hospital records of all patients discharged from non-federal hospitals in New Jersey with a cardiovascular disease diagnosis or invasive cardiovascular procedure.

Health and Extreme Weather

The research shows that in the two weeks following Hurricane Sandy, there was a 22 percent increase in heart attacks in the eight counties determined to be high-impact areas, as compared with the same time period in the previous five years. In the low-impact areas (the remaining 13 counties), the increase was less than 1 percent.

The 30-day mortality from heart attacks also increased by 31 percent in the high-impact area.

“We estimate that there were 69 more deaths from myocardial infarction during the two weeks following Sandy than would have been expected. This is a significant increase over typical non-emergency periods,” says Joel Swerdel, an epidemiologist at Rutgers.

“Our hope is that the research may be used by the medical community, particularly emergency medical services, to prepare for the change in volume and severity of health incidents during extreme weather events.”

In regard to stroke, the investigators found a 7 percent increase compared to the same time period in the prior five years in areas of the state impacted the most. There was no change in the incidence of stroke in low-impact areas and no change in the 30-day mortality rate due to stroke in either the high- or low-impact areas.

“Hurricane Sandy had unprecedented environmental, financial, and health consequences on New Jersey and its residents, all factors that can increase the risk of cardiovascular events,” says John B. Kostis, director of the Cardiovascular Institute of New Jersey and associate dean for cardiovascular research at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“Increased stress and physical activity, dehydration, and a decreased attention or ability to manage one’s own medical needs probably caused cardiovascular events during natural disasters or extreme weather. Also, the disruption of communication services, power outages, gas shortages, and road closures also were contributing factors to efficiently obtaining medical care.”

From Rutgers University via