The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had a heartfelt impact on certain U.S. residents. Those who experienced serious stress-related reactions in the weeks after 9/11 developed more heart and blood vessel ailments than their less-stressed counterparts did, reports a team led by nursing researcher E. Alison Holman of the University of California, Irvine.
A nationally representative sample of 2,592 adults completed a health survey during the summer of 2001 and again within 3 weeks after 9/11. Follow-up surveys assessed physician-diagnosed medical ailments, including heart problems, strokes, and high blood pressure.
Roughly 1 in 5 participants cited severe stress symptoms just after 9/11, including constant rumination about the events, emotional detachment, and loss of concentration. Compared with the majority of study participants, these superstressed individuals—most of whom saw the attacks on television—displayed a 53 percent increase in new cases of heart and blood vessel disorders over the next 3 years, Holman and her colleagues report in the January Archives of General Psychiatry.
Volunteers who reported marked stress reactions after 9/11 and continued to worry about terrorism—about 6 percent of the sample—developed new cardiac problems three times as often as the others did.
The researchers controlled for participants’ prior heart and mental-health problems, as well as for health-risk factors such as cigarette smoking, obesity, and high cholesterol.