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Heart attacks in Democrat-voting Southern California spiked 53 per cent following the 2020 U.S. presidential election compared to two weeks earlier, a study says.
Researchers at Kaiser Permanente — the state’s largest health system — monitored hospitalizations for heart issues for five days two weeks before the election, and the same period immediately after voting closed.
Admissions from heart failure — when the heart can’t pump blood efficiently around the body — rose 19 per cent in the region after the election, while those from strokes ticked up 14 per cent.
In Northern California — where almost half of counties backed Trump, but which includes the liberal-leaning Bay Area — hospitalizations from heart attacks also rose, but by a lower 32 per cent.
Its heart failure rate went up by 16 per cent, a smaller rise than in the south, but the stroke rate fell almost a fifth over the period studied.
Researchers blamed ‘anger’ and ‘hostility’ amid the close election results for the uptick in heart problems, warning stress could trigger the condition.
But they also warned other factors such as Covid and extreme weather triggering rises in heart attacks ‘could not be ruled out’.
To manage stress during elections, they suggested Americans should meditate, do yoga and practice ‘mindfulness’.
The above graph shows the percentage change in cardiovascular events over five-days two weeks before the 2020 presidential election to the five-days immediately following voting. It breaks it into southern California, which mostly backed Biden, and northern California, which mostly backed Trump
The above map shows which president each Californian county backed in 2020. In the south nine in ten supported Biden, but in the north 22 out of 46 voted for Trump
Scientists have been pointing to a link between U.S. presidential elections and upticks in heart attacks for years.
They largely blame stress sparked by casting ballots and expectations surrounding the results for the uptick in rates. Stress is known to raise the risk of heart problems.
The 2020 presidential race was a close-fought affair, with Republicans quickly calling a recount in several states over allegations of vote-rigging and shifting tallies.
Do presidential elections lead to an uptick in heart attacks?
The jury is still out on whether presidential elections raise the risk of someone suffering a heart attack.
But scientists point out they can raise stress levels, which in turn inflates the likelihood of cardiovascular problems.
Scientists that monitored hospitalizations with heart attacks in California following the 2016 presidential election — when Trump won — found they ticked up 62 per cent over the two days following the election compared to a week beforehand.
A separate study published today found they ticked up 42 per cent across the state following the 2020 election.
Scientists say ‘anger’ and ‘hostility’ around the election period could explain the uptick.
Although they also note they can’t rule out other factors such as the Covid pandemic and extreme weather.
In the study — published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Network Open — scientists looked at hospitalization rates for heart problems over October 21 to 25, nine days before the election.
This was compared to the November 4 to 8, just after the election and spanning the period where the results were disputed before a victor was declared on November 7.
Kaiser Permanente’s network is the largest in California, and covers 20 percent of people in the southern area and 30 percent in the northern region.
The majority of patients were between 18 and 54 years old (62 percent).
They were equally split between male and female, and more than 40 percent were white.
The health system did not record which candidate its patients voted for.
But in Southern California nine out of ten counties backed Biden, while in the north 22 out of 46 cast their votes for Trump.
Southern California’s hospitalization rate for heart attacks was 141 per 100,000 person-years over the week before the election. But over the five days afterwards it spiked to 216 per 100,000.
For comparison, in Northern California the rate rose from 145 to 192 per 100,000.
For heart failure, the hospitalization rate in Southern California rose from 245 to 293, up 19 per cent.
Strokes in the region ticked up by 14 per cent, from 346 to 396 per 100,000.
In Northern California, heart failure rates rose from 216 to 252, up 16 per cent, but stroke rates fell from 246 to 205, down 17 per cent.
Overall, white men in their 70s were found to be most at risk of suffering a heart problem following the election.
Researchers, led by Dr Matthew Mefford, cardiovascular disease epidemiologist at Kaiser, warned emotions such as ‘anger and hostility’ were associated with ‘new and recurring heart disease, as well as premature development on CVD.
‘Additionally, anxiety is often tied to CVD risk factors that accelerate atheroscelrosis (risk factor for heart attacks).’
They said: ‘Leading up to the 2020 election and through several days afterwards, there were claims of widespread voter fraud, different timelines for counting and reporting mail-in and in-person ballots, shifting vote totals, and speculation that results would not be acknowledged by one of the presidential candidates.
‘Although speculative, it is plausible these factors combined created an emotionally charged atmosphere across the U.S. regardless of demographic or political affiliation.’
The scientists did not say why stroke rates rose in one region and fell in another.
The above graph shows hospitalizations from all heart problems in California before (control window) and after (grey window) the election. The average (black line) is shown to rise by 17 per cent over this period
The above graph shows average hospitalizations from heart attacks (black line) over the period before (control window) and after (risk window) the US election. It reveals an uptick of 40 per cent, according to the researchers at Kaiser Permanente
The above graph shows the average rate for heart failure (black line) both before (control window) and immediately after (risk window) the US election. Scientists say that the rates rose by 18 per cent across the state between the two periods
The above graph shows the average rate for stroke (black line) before (control window) and after (risk window) the U.S. presidential election in 2020. It reveals they rose by two per cent
They added that concern over the Covid pandemic ‘cannot be ruled out’ in contributing to higher rates of heart problems.
But noted that any stress from this risk happened over a ‘much broader and prolonged period’, meaning it is unlikely to explain the sudden spike.
Severe weather such as torrential rain and wildfires could also have contributed to the uptick in heart problems, they said.
The results match a separate paper from around the 2016 presidential election, which also found a spike in heart problems after Trump won.
This found heart problems rose 62 percent across the state in the two days following the victory’s announcement.
A separate paper from North Carolina — which backed Trump in 2016 — showed heart attack rates rose 77 percent in the six weeks following the election.