Covid 19 coronavirus: Pandemic-related stress over jobs linked to heart attack increase

More Kiwis could be at risk of having a heart attack due to the stress and financial insecurity caused by Covid-related job losses.

New research published in today’s New Zealand Medical Journal found increased unemployment from economic shocks, like the Covid pandemic, is associated with a rise in cardiovascular disease, especially for middle-aged men.

Dr Anja Mizdrak said while the research didn’t look at what has already happened in New Zealand it showed we need to watch out for people who might end up with heart problems in the coming months and years as a result of long-term Covid-related stress.

“Despite success with eliminating the Covid-19 pandemic in Aotearoa New Zealand so far, the response to the pandemic threat has resulted in a range of negative social and economic impacts, including job losses,”

The totality of the evidence suggested that increased unemployment arising from economic shocks is associated with increased CVD, particularly for middle-aged men.”

Heart Foundation NZ’s medical director Gerry Devlin, also a practising cardiologist in Gisborne, said there was no doubt stress could trigger a heart attack.

“A good example that we have seen in the past is some of my colleagues in Christchurch saw more people presenting to the hospital with heart attacks after the earthquake.

Devlin said with stress came more adrenaline which can cause problems with arteries, fuelling a reduction of blood flow to the heart.

“But there was still a lot that was unknown about the link to stress and heart attacks.”

Paul Tolich suffered a major heart attack on Auckland’s Harbour Bridge earlier this year.

The 65-year-old lost his job in construction the day before.

“At the time of the heart attack I did feel the pressure of work and had other stresses going on.”

Tolich said on he was on his way to pick up his grandkids on July 25 to take them to Auckland Zoo when he felt a sharp pain in his chest.

“It was really frightening. I’ve had heart problems in the past but this was much more intense and I knew it was a heart attack.”

He kept driving to a medical centre near St Lukes, in Mt Albert. Not realising he was having a heart attack, staff told him he couldn’t come in as it was a Covid testing station.

“Then I said I’m having a heart attack, and they suddenly scrambled.”

He spent the next seven days in Auckland City Hospital.

“Doctors said I was really lucky the blood clot had passed and they treated me so well – five-star review for that place,” the Northland granddad said.

The latest figures from Statistics New Zealand show the country’s overall unemployment rate rose to 5.3 per cent (151,000 people) in September, up from 4 per cent in June.

That equates to 37,000 more people without a job.

In the September 2020 quarter, 56,700 people said Covid was the main reason they were working fewer hours than usual.

Poorer health outcomes amid the pandemic have also come from longer wait times for non-urgent surgeries, researchers said.

The Herald spoke to emergency doctors in April who warned a serious non-virus patient catch-up loomed due to the building backlog of delayed treatments.

Authors of the medical journal research – who reviewed dozens of studies from overseas – were also worried it could widen the gap between Māori and non-Māori.

Minority groups were more at risk of getting heart attacks due to inequalities in accessing health care, experts said in the paper.

“Continued monitoring and active policy responses are required to prevent increases in [heart attacks].”

To avoid a rise of heart attacks, researchers advised intensifying tobacco control, reducing the permitted level of sodium in processed foods in New Zealand and enhancing the use of blood-thinning drugs, known as statins and anti-hypertensives, for those at risk.

The researchers warned continued monitoring and active policy responses were required to prevent increases in CVD (and other harmful health outcomes) as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic response.

“Covid 19 has had wide-ranging impacts across New Zealand and part of our response includes monitoring the effects of the virus on New Zealanders.”

A Ministry of Health spokesman said policy around the recommendations made in the report include topics the Ministry regularly looks at.

“We take this report into consideration, as we routinely do with new research.”

About heart disease in New Zealand:

• More than one person in New Zealand dies every 90 minutes from heart disease, that’s nearly 18 people a day.

• Heart disease is the single biggest killer in New Zealand – more than a third of deaths in New Zealand are caused by heart disease.

• A heart attack is not the same as a cardiac arrest. A heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked, and a cardiac arrest is when the heart suddenly stops beating unexpectedly. A heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest.

• More than 170,000 people in New Zealand are currently living with heart disease, putting them more at risk of having a heart attack. Though a healthy person can also get a heart attack.

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