This study evaluated patients admitted with heart attacks to Tulane Medical Center in the two years before Katrina and the six years after the hospital reopened five months after Katrina. Researchers examined differences in the incidence of heart attacks and compared the two groups based on demographic and clinical data, including lab test results, health insurance status, first-time hospitalization, medical non-adherence, smoking status, substance abuse and employment.
"Overwhelmingly, the main differences in the pre- and post-Katrina populations involve psychosocial risk factors as opposed to shifts in traditional cardiovascular risk factors like hypertension, obesity and diabetes," said Dr. Anand Irimpen, the study's senior investigator, associate professor of medicine at the Heart and Vascular Institute of Tulane University School of Medicine. "These findings have broad implications about how natural disasters affect communities, as well as the extensive costs to society, whether it is financial or social."
The groups were comparable in terms of age, sex, ethnicity and hypertension. However, the post-Katrina group had a higher prevalence of psychiatric comorbidities -- the effects of secondary diseases and conditions on heart health, in this case -- like depression and anxiety disorder, as well as smoking and substance abuse. This group was also more likely to be unemployed and uninsured, and less likely to adhere to prescribed medications.
"Large-scale catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina seem to create a very large shift in the population and the way it behaves and takes care of itself," Irimpen said. He and his research team plan to collaborate with other centers to collect and compare data from other sites that have experienced major natural disasters, including those in the New York area following Hurricane Sandy.