Heart Attack Patients Often Develop PTSD
People who have a heart attack often experience symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a new study, published in the journal PLoS One on Wednesday. In addition, people who develop PTSD after a heart attack are much more likely to suffer another one, researchers said.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that typically occurs after exposure to a traumatic event, such as combat or assault. Symptoms include nightmares, avoiding reminders of the event and elevated heart and blood pressure.
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"The underlying similarity between heart attacks, combat experiences, even witnessing other people going through violence is that the individual perceives his or her own life is in danger," Dr. Donald Edmondson, study author and assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, told Fox News. "The person experiences the threat of mortality and feels out of control."
Researchers found that 12 percent of heart attack patients develop symptoms consistent with PTSD and 4 percent meet the criteria for an official diagnosis. While that may not sound like much, it translates to 168,000 patients developing PTSD symptoms every year.
"There have been studies that have looked at this before, but most of those used very small samples [of people]," Edmondson told Fox News. "When we ask what the prevalence is in 2,300 patients, that's when people sit up and take notice. There's an issue here - this is something we need to pay attention to."
PTSD is highly treatable with therapy, and Edmonson said he'd like to see cardiologists screen heart attack patients for it quickly with a four-question survey.
"It takes next to no time," Edmondson told WebMD. "They are already screening for depression, so why not throw in these four questions?"
Dr. David Frid, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, who was not involved in the study, told WebMD that heart attack patients should speak to their doctor if they experience any symptoms of PTSD.
"If somebody is experiencing symptoms associated with PTSD, such as difficulty sleeping, problems with moving on from the event, and worrying about what happened, they should discuss it with their cardiologist or primary care provider or seek an evaluation from a mental health professional to see if PTSD is the cause," he said.
By screening quickly and easily, doctors can help patients regain their quality of life, Edmonson told WebMD.
"These patients are not just unable to enjoy life, they are at risk of further hospitalizations and death," he said. "Paying attention to PTSD is a no-brainer."
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