The stress of presidential elections may increase the incidence of heart attacks and strokes, researchers report.
Scientists tracked hospitalizations for acute cardiovascular disease in the weeks before and after the 2016 presidential election among about three million adults who were enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente Southern California health care system.
The study, in PNAS, found that hospitalizations for cardiovascular disease in the two days following the election were 61 percent higher than in the same two days of the preceding week. The rate of heart attack increased by 67 percent and of stroke by 59 percent in the two days following the election. The results were similar regardless of the age, race or sex of the patients.
The exact physiological mechanism is unknown, but previous studies have found similar increases in cardiovascular disease risk after traumatic public events, including earthquakes, industrial accidents and terrorist incidents like the World Trade Center attack of 2001 and the Charlie Hebdo shootings in 2015.
Psychological stressors such as anger, anxiety and depression have also been associated with sudden increases in the risk for cardiovascular events in the days, or even hours, following such events. The authors suggest that the stress of elections may provoke similar emotions.
“These are important findings,” said the lead author, Matthew T. Mefford, a postdoctoral research fellow at Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “This should really encourage health care providers to pay more attention to the ways that stress is linked to political campaigns and how election outcomes may directly impact health.”