How natural disasters like Hurricane Michael can worsen conditions for those with heart disease

By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer

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A natural disaster such as Hurricane Michael can be a traumatic event for anyone on the receiving end of a storm’s impacts.

Recovering from such a life-altering event, which can cause loss of life and property damage, can take a toll on one’s wellbeing as it’s an emotional and stressful time.

While stress can become a problem for any healthy adult, medical experts say this stress is particularly dangerous for people who suffer from heart disease. Without proper treatment, exacerbation of existing cardiovascular issues could lead to medical emergencies like heart attacks and strokes.

"Every adult is at risk, we can say that there are adults or older adults who don’t have any disease, some who have risk factors, and some who have cardiovascular disease," said Jagdish Khubchandani, an associate professor of community health at Ball State University told AccuWeather in an email.

People's risk levels can vary depending on event severity, time of event, exposure and individual sensitivity such as age, gender and risk factors.

"For example, people with diabetes and hypertension are at greater risk," he said.

stock image of man with chest pain

(Photo/patrickheagney/iStock Getty Images)


Dr. Martin Matsumura, chief of cardiology for Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Pennsylvania, said that during an event like a major hurricane, there are stressors that could exacerbate the underlying conditions.

“Stress associated with a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or things like that, can activate stress hormones which will raise your blood pressure, may increase inflammation, all of which can lead to increased risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular events such as heart failure,” he said.

In the wake of the disaster, there are other stressors that have been shown to keep the increased rate of cardiovascular events high, according to Matsumura.

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The ongoing emotional stress related to a sudden change in your life, whether it’s the loss of your home, or possessions, could lead to bouts of depression as well as sleep loss, Matsumura explained.

“Depression has certainly been shown to be associated with an increased risk of cardiac events," he said.

Research has found that natural disasters have led to an spike in cardiac events. There was a four-fold increase in heart attacks in New Orleans in the 11-year period following Hurricane Katrina, according to a study published by the American College of Cardiology. Following Superstorm Sandy in 2012, an uptick in heart attacks and strokes was reported in some of the hardest hit New Jersey counties, according to a study from the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Another post-disaster concern is being unable to get in contact with your doctor. Personnel that work in hospitals and emergency services organizations can all suffer similar setbacks as patients so the necessary treatment isn't always available.

In the aftermath of a significant storm, it may be challenging to see a health care provider for a checkup or to get medications, especially for more vulnerable populations, the American Heart Association (AHA) states.

Jagdish said people should take time to prepare for such an event by discussing plans with their physician. Other ways to mitigate risk is by eating healthy, refraining from alcohol consumption and having adequate sleep and rest.

The AHA offers preparation tips for those who suffer from heart disease to be ready in case there is ever a time when they may need to evacuate and stay away from home.

heart disease list


Warning signs of a potential heart attack, according to the AHA

  • Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes. It could also go away and then return.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body can include the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath can occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.


For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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