9/11 First Responders Developed High-Risk Cardiovascular Condition

November 18, 2011

World Trade Center first responders who had high-level exposures to the initial dust cloud on Sept. 11, 2001, now have high-risk features of atherosclerosis (plaque in arteries), according to latest findings from Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate cardiovascular risk of WTC first responders. The data were presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2011 in Orlando, Fla.

Additionally, research findings also show more impaired cardiac relaxation and coronary calcification in responders who worked at Ground Zero, compared with the general population.

Mary Ann McLaughlin, associate professor of medicine, is the primary investigator for this latest study at Mount Sinai. She and her colleagues have been evaluating the cardiovascular health of WTC responders since 2007.

Researchers used MRI to evaluate blood vessels of 19 responders exposed to high levels of particulate matter from the dust cloud, and 12 exposed to lower levels. They found that WTC workers exposed to the initial dust cloud had higher blood vessel formation in their artery plaque compared to people with lower exposures.

Co-investigator Simonette Sawit also demonstrated impaired vascular reactivity, or dysfunction of the inner lining of blood vessels, in those with higher dust exposures. This dysfunction may accelerate the progression of atherosclerosis. The Mount Sinai team discovered this association in WTC workers independent of other clinical factors.

“Using noninvasive MRI imaging, we were able to see a significant impact of the events of 9/11 on the cardiovascular health of the brave men and women who responded that day,” said Zahi Fayad, director of the translational and molecular imaging institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “Now that we have visualized the risk and early development of vascular lesions, in a subset of subjects, we look forward to studying the use of imaging in the greater patient population.”

“This study defines physiologic change associated with greater exposure to the dust cloud at the WTC site,” added McLaughlin, the primary investigator for the latest study at Mount Sinai.

“We are currently evaluating other predictors of cardiovascular risk in this population to gain a better understanding of the impact of particulate matter exposure on cardiovascular health.”

Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Mount Sinai Medical Center, through its WTC Clinical Center of Excellence at Mount Sinai, run programs that treat and monitor emergency responders, recovery workers, residents, and area workers who were affected by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It is made possible by James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides $4.3 billion in federal funding to serve the health needs of the brave men and women impacted by the WTC tragedy.

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