Canterbury residents living in quake-damaged homes were put at higher risk of heart attack, a new data-crunching study has found.
The research, just published in international journal The Lancet Planetary Health, offers the latest insight into how quakes that rocked Canterbury over 2010 and 2011 affected peoples' health in the months and years after.
Earlier studies have indicated a number of negative effects, ranging from depression, anxiety and a mental fog dubbed "quake brain", to suicides linked to the disaster and detailed in a Herald investigation.
Now, researchers have found how those living in areas with more severely damaged homes in the first year after a major earthquake had elevated levels of cardiovascular disease - and heart attacks in particular.
"We were interested in the long-term impact of the earthquake given the prolonged insurance settlement process, particularly among those who were most impacted by earthquake damage to their homes," said study author Professor Vicky Cameron, a cardiology researcher based at the University of Otago, Christchurch.
EQC residential building claims data were linked to residential information at the time of the magnitude 7.1 September 4, 2010 earthquake.
Researchers then followed up with adult residents aged older than 45 to check any new cases of hospital admission with cardiovascular disease and related deaths.
The results were adjusted for the influence of age, sex, ethnicity, small area deprivation index and personal income.
In the first year, people who were living in the most damaged areas in Christchurch had around 10 per cent more cardiovascular hospitalisations compared with the least damaged areas, 22 per cent more hospitalisations for heart attacks, and 25 per cent more deaths from cardiovascular disease.
Over the first 12 months of the Canterbury earthquakes, in areas with the most damage to homes, there were at least 66 related hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease and 29 for heart attacks, when compared to the least-damaged areas.
But the researchers failed to find any such pattern over the following four years.
While cardiovascular disease rates are known to increase immediately after a severe earthquake, less was known about the magnitude of this increase over a longer time frame, and whether this was associated with level of housing damage.
The new study offered proof that people living in areas with more severely damaged homes in the first year after a major earthquake had elevated levels of cardiovascular disease, and heart attacks in particular.
The researchers suggested policy measures, such as better access to services and interventions within the first year of a disaster, could help.
"The cardiovascular impact of the Canterbury earthquakes is a reminder of the broader health impact of a natural disaster and the importance of considering cardiovascular prevention in natural disaster preparedness, resilience and recovery," Cameron said.
The study was undertaken as part of the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge and carried out by researchers from Otago University, the University of Canterbury and Opus.