A new study helmed by Alison Holman, professor in nursing science at UC Irvine, shows that stress responses linked to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 are greater than previously thought.
The study shows that the attacks have been connected with a 53 percent increase in cardiovascular ailments in the three years following the events, according to a UCI press release.
These findings contrast considerably with an earlier study that showed 17 percent of America’s population outside of New York had reported post-traumatic stress symptoms in the months following the attacks.
Holman commented on the groundbreaking nature of the study, as well as the impact the events of 9/11 had on individuals not immediately connected with the tragedy.
‘Our study is the first to show that even among people who had no personal connection to the victims, those who reported high levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms in the days following the 9/11 attacks were more than twice as likely to report being diagnosed by their doctors with cardiovascular ailments like high blood pressure, heart problems and stroke up to three years later,’ Holman said.
The study consisted of a randomly selected body of 2,000 volunteers from across the United States.
According to the UCI press release the participants filled out surveys that included questions that indicated whether they had stress-related responses, continuing concerns about such issues as terrorism, and medically diagnosed ailments.
With close to 3,000 deaths resulting from the events of Sept. 11, the gravity of the attacks cannot be denied. For this reason, among others, 9/11 has become one of the defining traumatic events of the decade on a global scale.
According to Angela Wang, president of the Public Health Association at UCI and a fourth-year public health policy major, traumatic events generally contribute to stress on an emotional and physical level, which can linger on for years.
‘Traumatic events can contribute to the usual stress by disrupting our emotional and physical being. Even years later, people can still have flashbacks of the events,’ Wang said.
Wang gave specifics concerning the emotional and physical reactions caused by traumatic events and confirmed their connection to cardiovascular difficulties, as was similarly stated in the UCI study.
‘Emotionally, you may experience mood swings, anxiety and sometimes depression. Physically, as you think back to the event your body may [experience] shock and become numb.
Even worse, your heartbeat may increase and you develop a difficulty in breathing,’ Wang said. Wang went on to note a list of seven side effects caused by traumatic events.
These effects include an increased difficulty in decision-making, a disruption in sleep and eating patterns, becoming distant with family and friends, suffering panic disorders and depression, a tendency toward substance abuse, chronic sleep deprivation and having relationship problems when support is needed.
Although such concerns as terrorism have lingered on past the Sept. 11 attacks, on a global scale many health ailments go untouched by such issues.
Vy-van Tran, co-president of the World Health Organization of Students at UCI and a fourth-year biological sciences major, addressed how many suffer throughout the world from diseases such as huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy and juvenile diabetes that are in no immediate way tied to traumatic events such as those caused by terrorism.
‘Honestly, I can’t say that terrorism has been a contributing factor for the health issues we’ve discussed. It hasn’t really come up, but it’s an interesting idea to think about,’ Tran said.
Still, despite admitting a lack of medical expertise on the issue, Tran believes that continuing stresses over terrorism can negatively affect both an individuals’ mental and physical health.
‘I think, to some extent, the stresses of terrorism can play a significant role in health, but I’d think that mental health rather than physical health would be impacted more,’ Tran said.
Unlike many who took part in the study, Tran noted her personal experience of having a distant feeling to the Sept. 11 attacks and went on to hypothesize why many may feel this way.
‘I think the level of stress someone may have felt from the attacks is probably correlated to how close they were to them