2020 Presidential Election Tied to Spike in Cardiac Events

Megan Brooks

April 26, 2022

Political elections can be hard on the heart, suggests a new study that showed a substantial uptick in hospital admissions for acute cardiovascular conditions immediately after the 2020 American presidential election.

The analysis of nearly 6.4 million adults showed that the rate of hospitalization for acute cardiovascular disease (CVD) was 17% higher in the 5 days after the election than in a 5-day period 2 weeks earlier.

The rate of acute myocardial infarction (AMI) was 42% higher, with no significant difference for heart failure or stroke hospital admissions.

"These findings suggest that awareness of the heightened risk of CVD and strategies to mitigate risk during notable political events are needed," write Matthew T. Mefford, PhD, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Pasadena, and colleagues.

The study was published in the April issue of JAMA Network Open.

Stress and the Heart

In the American Psychological Association Stress in America 2020 survey conducted roughly 3 months before the 2020 presidential election, 77% of adults cited the future of the country as a substantial source of stress, enhanced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the authors note. More than two-thirds said the election was a substantial source of stress.

Mefford and colleagues compared CVD hospitalizations at Kaiser Permanente Southern and Northern California hospitals in the 5-day risk window of November 4 to 8, 2020, with the control window of October 21 to 25, 2020.

There were 666 CVD hospitalizations (760.47 per 100,000 person-years [PY]) in the risk window, compared with 569 (647.97 per 100,000 PY) in the control window (rate ratio [RR], 1.17; 95% CI, 1.05 - 1.31).

There were also significantly more hospitalizations for AMI immediately after the election than before (179 vs 126 AMI hospitalizations; 204.4 vs 143.5 per 100,000 PY; RR, 1.42; 95% CI, 1.13 - 1.79).

There was no significant difference between the risk and control periods for hospitalizations due to stroke or heart failure.

The study also suggests higher rates of acute CVD after the election in older adults, men, and White individuals. Political affiliation was not examined in the study.

"Importantly, results were consistent before and after excluding patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection," the study team notes.

Yet, the potential influence of COVID-19 stressors on increasing CVD risk cannot be ruled, they say.

However, COVID-19 stressors occurred over a much longer period and are less likely to explain the transient risks observed in the defined risk and control windows that are in close proximity to the 2020 election, they point out.

There is growing evidence that psychological health contributes to CVD.

Previous studies shown a higher risk for acute CVD around population-wide psychosocial or environmental stressors, but less was known about acute CVD risk in relation to political events.

Looking ahead, the researchers say future studies evaluating stress-relieving interventions may be important for understanding the intersection of political events, associated stress, and acute CVD risk.

Partial funding for the study was provided by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The authors have no relevant conflicts of interest.

JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5:e228031. Full text

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