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Studies tie stress from storms, war to heart risks

SAN FRANCISCO — Stress does bad things to the heart. New studies have found higher rates of cardiac problems in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, New Orleans residents six years after Hurricane Katrina, and Greeks struggling through that country’s financial turmoil.

Disasters and prolonged stress can raise “fight or flight” hormones that affect blood pressure, blood sugar, and other things in ways that make heart trouble more likely, doctors say. They also provoke anger and helplessness and spur heart-harming behaviors like eating or drinking too much.

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“We’re starting to connect emotions with cardiovascular risk markers,” said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center and an American Heart Association spokeswoman.

She had no role in the studies, which were discussed Sunday at an American College of Cardiology conference in San Francisco.

The largest study, involving 207,954 veterans in California and Nevada, compared those with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, to those without it. They were free of major heart disease and diabetes when researchers checked their medical records from 2009 and 2010.

Checked again about two years later, 35 percent of those with PTSD but only 19 percent of those without it had developed insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes and hardening of the arteries.

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