WTC cleanup staff battling PTSD more vulnerable to heart problems, say researchers

The terror attack on New York City’s World Trade Center (WTC) complex on Sept. 11, 2001 continues to cause mental problems to New Yorkers. Even more than 16 years after the completion of the cleanup operations at the site of the tragedy, a study suggests that many members of the cleanup crew still grapple with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that may have increased their vulnerability to stroke and heart attack.

The researchers said more than 6,000 male and female cleanup staff who worked at “ground zero” faced the risk of heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years, while those with PTSD experienced a threefold higher risk. According to senior study author Dr. Alfredo Morabia of the City University of New York and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, the implications of the findings go beyond ground zero cleanup staff.

According to the study, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, neither exposure to dust from the site nor depression could justify the study findings. “The message for everyone suffering from PTSD, whether they are men or women, is that they are at higher risk of heart attack and stroke,” Morabia told Reuters Health. “And they should very seriously try to reduce their classic risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” he added.

Morabia and his team analyzed data of 6,481 individuals, including volunteers, non-firefighting staff, and blue collar workers who took part in the rescue and cleanup operations at the site during the early days following the terrorist attack on the twin towers. The study participants were enrolled in a long-term, detailed health monitoring and treatment program in 2002. Nearly 20 percent of the male participants and 26 percent of the female respondents were diagnosed with PTSD during the study period — a rate almost twice that of the general population, the study found.

On the whole, the rate of heart attack during this follow-up period went up by 2.22 times among the participants with PTSD compared to those without the mental condition. Additionally, the rate of stroke were 2.51 times higher in the case of those with PTSD.

Anybody exposed to trauma is vulnerable to PTSD. However, soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors, in particular those on dangerous missions with higher odds of being exposed to deadly and life-threatening experiences, are highly susceptible to mental problems, such as PTSD. Some of the most common symptoms of PTSD are feeling upset by things that remind a person of the past painful events, having repeated nightmares, and experiencing vivid memories or flashbacks of the incident.

Mental health problems are treatable

Speaking openly about mental health ailments is still a big “no” for many Americans nationwide. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults in the country struggle with mental illness each year. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that each year suicides claim more than 41,000 victims, leaving behind thousands of near and dear ones to deal with the setback of losing a loved one.

However, the good news is that the society is acknowledging that mental problems are real and treatment is the only way forward. When wondering where to start with finding help for psychiatric disorders, contact the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline. Reach out at our 24/7 mental helpline number (855) 653-8178 to know about the finest rehabs in your vicinity and get the best treatment for your needs. You can also use our live chat service to get in touch with one of our representatives for more information.