Health Team

How a hurricane could lead to a heart attack

Posted September 26, 2018 5:00 p.m. EDT
Updated September 28, 2018 5:28 p.m. EDT

— Hurricane recovery can be an emotionally and physically challenging time. For those at risk, the experience could lead to a life-threatening heart issue.

"There's pretty good data that, after a natural disaster, whether it be a hurricane, an earthquake or a flood, that there's a higher risk of patients having heart attacks and stroke," said Dr. Willis Wu, a cardiologist at UNC Rex Healthcare. "There was a 30 percent increase in the rates of heart attack immediately after Hurricane Katrina as compared to before."

Wu said the confusion before and after natural disasters increases the danger for those with known cardiovascular issues, like diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking. Risks are also related to a lack of medications, the stress of being in a natural catastrophe and a lack of access to medical care.

Recovery after the storm can also affect people not yet diagnosed with heart disease - but who are at risk.

"The thought is that they are out doing more physical labor than they are accustomed to," said Dr. Wu. "Make sure that you are aware of any symptoms of chest pain or shortness of breath."

Wu warns that unusual physical exertion along with heightened stress requires awareness of heart symptoms and symptoms of chest pain or shortness of breath.

He recommends that if an individual notices such symptoms, seek emergency medical care.