Heart Problems Discovered in 9/11 Responders

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They were among the first to arrive on the scene of the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, and many of them continued to work selflessly for months on the site, exposing themselves to airborne debris and other dangers. Now experts from Mount Sinai School of Medicine have reported that these first responders on 9/11 have heart problems, specifically impaired diastolic function of both the left and right ventricle.

Results of the new study come on the heels of a tentative settlement that would award as much as $657 million to the Ground Zero rescue and cleanup workers who were sickened by their exposure to the toxic debris at the site. In 2007, the first clinical study that connected exposure to the World Trade Center dust and serious disease released its findings.

In that study, published in Chest, it showed that the number of 9/11 responders who had a rare type of lung condition called sarcoidosis rose dramatically in the year after the attack. Other studies have shown that a high percentage of the rescue workers developed persistent coughs and other respiratory conditions, as well as psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Now, in a study entitled “First Documentation of Cardiac Dysfunction Following Exposure to the World Trade Center Disaster,” researchers provide evidence that the 9/11 responders have a condition in which their hearts are not able to relax normally, which increases their risk for heart failure and shortness of breath.

The study, conducted by Lori Croft, MD, assistant professor of medicine, evaluated 1,236 workers who had been part of the 9/11 rescue efforts. It found that more than 50 percent of them had impaired relaxation of the left ventricle. Among their same-age peers in the general population, this condition appears in only 7 percent of people. More than 60 percent of the participants had abnormal diastolic function in the right ventricle, which pumps blood to the lungs.

Although these study results do not definitively link exposure to debris by 9/11 responders and their heart problems, Dr. Croft and her team note that previous research indicates that inhaled debris may be associated with lung and heart disease. Additional studies are needed before the heart problems experienced by these and potentially other 9/11 responders can be connected with the disaster, but Croft points out that “these data are an exciting first step.”

SOURCES:
Izbicki G et al. Chest 2007 May; 131(5): 1414-23
Mount Sinai School of Medicine, news release Mar. 16, 2010
New York Post, Mar. 12, 2010

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