Disasters and the heart: a review of the effects of earthquake-induced stress on cardiovascular disease

Hypertens Res. 2003 May;26(5):355-67. doi: 10.1291/hypres.26.355.


There is growing evidence that stress contributes to cardiovascular disease. Chronic stress contributes to the atherosclerotic process through increased allostatic load, which is mediated by the neuroendocrine and immune systems (sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamus-pituitary adrenal axis) and related chronic risk factors (insulin resistance syndrome, hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia). In addition, acute stress can trigger cardiovascular events predominantly through sympathetic nervous activation and potentiation of acute risk factors (blood pressure increase, endothelial cell dysfunction, increased blood viscosity, and platelet and hemostatic activation). Earthquakes provide a good example of naturally occurring acute and chronic stress, and in this review we focus mainly on the effects of the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake on the cardiovascular system. The Hanshin-Awaji earthquake resulted in a 3-fold increase of myocardial infarctions in people living close to the epicenter, particularly in women, with most of the increase occurring in nighttime-onset events. There was also a near doubling in the frequency of strokes. These effects may be mediated by changes in hemostatic factors, as demonstrated by an increase of D-dimer, von Willebrand factor, and tissue-type plasminogen activator (tPA) antigen. Blood pressure also increased after the earthquake, and was prolonged for several weeks in patients with microalbuminuria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Disasters*
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Physiological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*