Why Natural Disasters Increase Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

It is obvious that natural disasters bring about extremely dangerous, life-threatening situations. But there are other effects acts of God may have, and they are long-lasting. The stress induced by such traumatic events invariably takes a toll on your health, leading to exacerbation of symptoms of your existing diseases, mental issues, and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Here is why.

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Living through an intimidating experience is bound to affect the life of a survivor profoundly. Memories of the terrible event may start to haunt you, causing you distress and resulting in a fixation with the calamity.

This is the mental aspect of the adverse effects natural disasters have: such mental health issues as PTSD, depression and anxiety often stem from being unable to forget about the imminent danger you had to face, with enervating flashbacks occurring often. This stress triggers a variety of reactions in the body, inducing inflammation and causing blood pressure to rise. Many patients suffering from the effects of traumatic events find it hard to seek medical attention, and their reticence about the adversity aggravates the situation.

Long-lasting effects

However, it is not only mental problems that such events may bring on. When blood pressure becomes elevated – and this is just what stress is notorious for – your risk of having a stroke or a heart attack increases. According to a team of scientists at Rutgers University, after Hurricane Sandy stroke the U.S. in 2012, the incidence of myocardial infarctions increased by 22%, with the 30-day mortality increasing by 31%; strokes were 7% more likely to occur.

Not only do rates of heart failure and stroke increase immediately after a natural disaster takes place, but they continue to be higher than before for many years afterwards. Eleven years have passed since Hurricane Katrina devastated many an area in New Orleans, but a 4-fold increase in the incidence of heart attacks still persists, suggesting a long-term impact was made on the region inhabitants.

Some of the peculiarities of natural disaster effects are tied to the impact they have on the environment. It is often the case that hurricanes and other acts of God destroy healthcare facilities or make access to them impossible, which means a patient is left to their own devices with no professional to help them. And such help is needed after a natural disaster not only due to having injuries, but also due to the need for cardiovascular risk assessment, psychological help, medications, and other things that can help you overcome the problems that usually arise as a result.

General recommendations

All this begs the question of how the toll natural disasters take on the health of those affected should be countered. Those who have chronic diseases, like diabetes or hypertension, must be especially careful, as their risk of falling victim to post-stress exacerbations is even higher.

First, evacuation must be considered, if there is such an opportunity. If it is impossible to avoid staying in the area in danger, you should prepare for the natural disaster – be vigilant about the alerts you receive, as time is of the essence.

Second, make sure you have medications – both the ones you take on a regular basis and the ones that you or someone else may need in case of emergency. Consult a doctor prior to the day when a hurricane is expected.

Third, try to prepare your body for stress, however impossible it may seem to be. Eat healthy foods, do not skip exercise, and sleep for about 7 to 8 hours a day – these measures will help reduce inflammation in the body and probably make your systems more resilient.

Do not forget to find out the locations of healthcare facilities where you can get help after a natural disaster, and of places where you can hide.

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