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War against the heart.

War against the heart

War, that notorious thief of a country's wealth, takes a subtle toll on civilian as well. In a study of war as a risk factor for heart disease, researchers have documented a correlation between exposure to wartime events and the risk of coronary artery disease among people living in Beirut.

Abla M. Sibai and her colleagues at the American University of Beirut studied 127 patients referred to a hospital for possible coronary artery disease. The researchers interviewed and gave specially designed questionnaires to the patients and to matched controls randomly chosen from hospital visitors. They collected data on classic coronary risk factors such as smoking history, diabetes and family history of coronary disease and on war-exposure variables, which they characterized as either "acute" or "chronic." Acute war-related variables included major events directly affecting a patient's nuclear family or property, such as kidnappings or property damage; chronic variables included more general stress factors, such as living in a dangerous neighborhood or crossing the "green lines," which separate belligerent factions within the city. When crossing green lines, citizens enter the line of sniper fire, and they must stop at multiple checkpoints manned by opposing military and political groups.

Even after adjusting for the expected effects of the classic risk factors, the researchers conclude that exposure to both chronic and acute war-related events increases an individual's risk of coronary artery disease. Moreover, they found that the risk increases with the frequency of exposure to war-related stressors; patients exposed to four or more events have a coronary disease risk up to 11 times greater than that of patients exposed to just one event.

Coauthor Haroutune K. Armenian, now at the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, cautions that the small sample size makes it difficult to draw definitive conclusions. Sibai is currently conducting a larger study to investigate the trends. Previous studies have noted a correlation between the stress of natural disasters and the occurrence of coronary artery disease, but this is the first study to focus on wartime risk factors, the researchers report in the October AMERICAN JOURNAL OF EPIDEMIOLOGY.
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Title Annotation:effects of wars on heart disease
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 28, 1989
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