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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Relatively few heart problems after jolt

Relatively few heart problems after jolt

REBECCA TODD
Last updated 05:00 20/04/2011
 
A lack of people clutching their chests after February's earthquake has cardiologists scratching their heads.

Christchurch Hospital clinical director of cardiology David Smyth said the department had expected an increase in post-quake cases, as happened in September.

The first 72 hours were extremely busy, but it had been quiet since.

"I can't say why we are not rushed off our feet now. I suspect it's because a lot of people have left town, but that's just speculation," he said.

One person had fled to Ashburton and had a heart attack, while two Christchurch people had heart attacks in Auckland.

"Last time [in September] we were inundated for about seven to 10 days with people having anything from big heart attacks to small attacks, then we were quiet for a few weeks after that," he said.

Smyth said research suggested the lack of heart attacks in those weeks was because of "harvesting".

People who were due to have heart attacks in the weeks after the quake had had one earlier with the huge jolt.

"In a perverse way, the first earthquake did a lot of people a lot of help," Smyth said.

"People were presenting with small heart attacks who had terrible, terrible heart conditions, and we were able to offer them some treatments in a timely fashion which arguably saved their lives."

However, harvesting did not explain the lack of heart attacks after February 22 as the effect would not last six months.

Most people seen in February had "broken heart syndrome" rather than true heart attacks, Smyth said.

Stress cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome, is brought on by sudden emotional strain, but, unlike an anxiety attack, part of the heart stops working.

However, GPs were referring patients experiencing breathlessness and heart palpatations since the February quake, he said.

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