USA

HE WON?! Health study shows impact of shock results on election day

Washington D.C. - Research has shown that nerve-wracking major events can put an entire population under serious stress, leading to more heart attacks and strokes. Days before the US heads to the polls, researchers have analyzed what news of Trump's 2016 win did to people's hearts.

Donald Trump being sworn in as president of the United States in January 2017 (archive photo).
Donald Trump being sworn in as president of the United States in January 2017 (archive photo).  © Andrew Harnik/AP/dpa

When Donald Trump first won the US presidential election four years ago, many around the world were left shaken up for days. A medical journal is now asking whether news of that political event had any immediate health impacts.

The answer is yes. There was a noticeable increase in the number of people hospitalized in southern California due to cardiovascular diseases, according researchers from Harvard University and health care consortium Kaiser Permanente.

The research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on October 12 found that such stress poses a greater health risk, as evidenced by hospitalizations in the two days following the election that took place on November 8, 2016.

Scientists used data from Kaiser Permanente, a company that operates hospitals and doctors' practices, providing medical care to 4.6 million people in Southern California.

The researchers focused on diagnoses of heart attacks and strokes in adults, and people reporting to emergency rooms with complaints of chest pain and acute coronary syndrome.

In the two days right after the 2016 election, 94 people in the area were hospitalized due to cardiovascular problems, up from 58 during the same weekdays just before the election. That suggests a 62% increase in admissions in the days following the election.

"In our diverse patient population, which reflects Southern California as a whole, we saw that the risk of heart attack increased after the 2016 election, regardless of gender, age and ethnic group," said lead author Matthew Mefford of Kaiser Permanente.

"This is a wake-up call for all medical professionals to pay more attention to the ways that stress directly related to political campaigns, political rhetoric and election results can damage people's health," added co-author David Williams of Harvard University.

This is definitely possible, according to Karl-Heinz Ladwig, research chief for psycho-cardiology at the department of psychosomatic medicine and psychotherapy at the Technical University in Munich, Germany.

But he was critical of the time period that the study covered, saying that window seemed somewhat artificial.

He argued that examining the data more closely and comparing the four days after the election with the equivalent days from the week before would yield pretty different results.

Stressful events have an impact on the population's health

And yet the research is clear in supporting its conclusion that life-changing events on a national level are not simply shrugged off by the population, but are a major source of stress to many.

Ladwig referred to another study, by Munich cardiologist Ute Wilbert who looked at the effects of the soccer World Cup in 2006.

The number of people brought to hospital due to heart attacks or heart rhythm problems was 2.7 times higher when Germany was playing a match compared to years when the competition wasn't being played.

The figures were similar following natural disasters, such as earthquakes in Los Angeles in 1994 and in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2011, or the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Ladwig, a member of the German Heart Foundation's scientific advisory board, said that such acute stress can cause heart attacks or other symptoms.

However, those affected are usually people who already suffer from heart conditions and that the stress acts as a trigger.

The pandemic is also a source of stress, the study's authors claim, something Ladwig insists is supported by a number of other pieces of research.

Cover photo: imagesbavaria/123rf

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