When the economy falters, hearts suffer: Economic recessions as a social determinant of health in cardiovascular emergencies

Am J Emerg Med. 2024 Feb:76:155-163. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2023.11.036. Epub 2023 Nov 29.


Introduction: While the relationships between cardiovascular disease (CVD), stress, and financial strain are well studied, the association between recessionary periods and macroeconomic conditions on incidence of disease-specific CVD emergency department (ED) visits is not well established.

Objectives: This retrospective observational study aimed to assess the relationship between macroeconomic trends and CVD ED visits.

Methods: This study uses data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Care Survey (NHAMCS), Federal Reserve Economic Database (FRED), National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), and CVD groupings from National Vital Statistics (NVS) and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from 1999 to 2020 to analyze ED visits in relation to macroeconomic indicators and NBER defined recessions and expansions.

Results: CVD ED visits grew by 79.7% from 1999 to 2020, significantly more than total ED visits (27.8%, p < 0.001). A national estimate of 213.2 million CVD ED visits, with 22.9 million visits in economic recessions were analyzed. A secondary group including a 6-month period before and after each recession (defined as a "broadened recession") was also analyzed to account for potential leading and lagging effects of the recession, with a total of 50.0 million visits. A significantly higher proportion of CVD ED visits related to heart failure (HF) and other acute ischemic heart diseases (IHD) was observed during recessionary time periods both directly and with a 6-month lead and lag (p < 0.05). The proportion of aortic aneurysm and dissection (AAA) and atherosclerosis (ASVD) ED visits was significantly higher (p = 0.024) in the recession period with a 6-month lead and lag. When controlled for common demographic factors, economic approximations of recession such as the CPI, federal funds rate, and real disposable income were significantly associated with increased CVD ED visits.

Conclusion: Macroeconomic trends have a significant relationship with the overall mix of CVD ED visits and represent an understudied social determinant of health.

Keywords: CPI; CVD; Cardiovascular disease; Economic recession; Economics; Economics of healthcare; FRED; Federal funds rate; Ischemic heart disease; NBER; Overcrowding; SDOH; Social determinates of health.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Economic Recession*
  • Emergencies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Medicare
  • Social Determinants of Health
  • United States / epidemiology