Heart patients prone to PTSD
One in eight patients with heart conditions go on to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to US researchers.
Furthermore, heart patients who suffer PTSD are twice as likely to have another cardiac event or die within one to three years, compared with those without PTSD.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder triggered by a traumatic event such as combat, disaster, or sexual assault. Common symptoms include nightmares, avoidance of reminders of the event, and elevated heart rate and blood pressure.
"While most people think of PTSD as a disorder of combat veterans and sexual assault survivors, it is also quite common among patients who have had a severe coronary event," said Dr Donald Edmondson, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, where the study was carried out.
"Not only are such events life-threatening, but their psychological impact can be devastating and long-lasting."
An acute coronary syndrome (ACS) is a term used to describe any condition brought about by sudden reduced blood flow to the heart. Numerous small studies have suggested that ACS-induced PTSD is common and can have serious health consequences, but its prevalence is not known.
To get a better idea of the scope of the problem, Dr Edmondson and his colleagues performed the first combined review of 24 studies, which included a total of 2,383 ACS patients from around the globe.
The study found that overall 12%, or one in eight, of the patients developed clinically significant PTSD symptoms, with 4% meeting full diagnostic criteria for the disorder.
Dr. Edmondson suggests that "there is abundant evidence that psychological disorders in heart patients are under-recognised and undertreated".
He said that underdiagnosis may be even more pronounced in cardiac practices than in other types of medical practices.
"This is a serious problem for individual patients, as well as for the healthcare system as a whole," he said.
"PTSD appears to double a heart patient's risk for a second cardiac event and for death, which adds hundreds of millions of dollars to annual health expenditures."
Fortunately, there are effective treatments available for people with PTSD.
According to Dr Edmondson, doctors and patients first need to be aware that there is a problem.
"Family members can also help," he said. "We know that social support is a good protective factor against PTSD due to any type of traumatic event."
The findings of the study were published in the online edition of PLoS ONE.
[Posted: Fri 22/06/2012]