Posttraumatic stress (PTSD) is most often associated with devastating life events and traumas such as grieving a death, violence, childhood maltreatment, or childhood sexual abuse. The effects of PTSD can be long lasting and can have a significant negative impact on a person’s ability to function and maintain their overall psychological well-being. PTSD has also been shown to lead to an increased risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.
Further, PTSD that develops as a result of a cardiovascular event can double the risk for future heart-related problems and death. Therefore, it is imperative that people who experience a stroke or mini-stroke (TIA) are assessed and monitored for PTSD in the months immediately following their cardiac event.
In an effort to better assess how PTSD is linked to cardiac issues, Donald Edmondson of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Medical Center in New York recently conducted a meta-analysis on nine studies that included 1,138 participants. He looked at strokes and TIAs that had happened in the month preceding the PTSD evaluation. He found that 23% of the participants developed PTSD within the first month after their cardiac event and an additional 11% developed it within the first year after their stroke or TIA. Overall, the rate of PTSD among TIA/stroke survivors was 13%.
Edmondson believes the findings of this study are significant and that clinicians, especially cardiac specialists and primary care doctors, are most impacted by these results. Because these doctors are among the first to examine clients after a cardiac problem, they are also the first to potentially see symptoms of PTSD. Early identification and diagnosis of PTSD could not only improve the physical recovery from the cardiac event, but also have a dramatic positive effect on overall psychological well-being.
Because stroke and TIA are risk factors for PTSD, and PTSD is a risk factor for further cardiac issues, broad screening methods should be implemented to decrease both PTSD and future cardiac problems. “In the meantime,” added Edmondson, “Clinicians should be mindful that PTSD can be a devastating mental health condition and should consider screening for PTSD in stroke survivors.”
Edmondson, D., Richardson, S., Fausett, J.K., Falzon, L., Howard, V.J., et al. (2013). Prevalence of PTSD in survivors of stroke and transient ischemic attack: A meta-analytic review. PLoS ONE 8(6): e66435. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066435
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