Post-traumatic stress disorder affects many combat veterans and disaster survivors. Now a new study shows heart attack survivors may also struggle with PTSD. Researchers say the anxiety disorder could set them up for another heart crisis.
A heart attack can be terrifying. Suddenly your life is on the line and you don’t know if you’re going to survive. Columbia University Medical Center looked at the data from two dozen studies of heart attack survivors and they found one in eight may be suffering from signs of PTSD.
Researchers found that 12 percent of heart attack or cardiac event survivors experience symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and 4 percent fit the technical definition of PTSD. This means survivors may go through the same nightmares, anxiety, and flashbacks combat veterans and survivors of violence and rape can experience.
Dr. Laurence Sperling, Director of the Center for Heart Disease Prevention at the Emory Clinic, says the new findings make sense because heart survivors go through their own traumas.
“I think to extend the patients, to have had a life event, a shocking life event life event, I think that’s an important step to making more physicians and healthcare providers aware of the impact of emotion on the heart,” said Dr. Sperling.
As many as 20 percent of heart attack survivors experience depression and anxiety. Sperling says both can affect a patient’s recovery.
“In our clinics, we actually do a depression screening questionnaire. And it’s not because I want to be a psychiatrist, it’s because we recognize depression is a very powerful heart risk factor, in the way that smoking is, or diabetes,” said Sperling.
Researchers found PTSD can double a survivor’s risk of cardiac arrest and dying in the three years after the initial event.
So, while emotional ups and downs are common, long-term changes may be a signal life is not getting back to normal.
However, there are ways to treat depression and PTSD. If you’re concerned you’re not bouncing back or you’re having trouble functioning, talk to your cardiologist.