According to a meta-analysis of 24 studies, a group of researchers from Columbia University Medical Center found that 1 in 8 people who experience a heart attack or other acute coronary event are more likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The researchers also found that heart patients who experience these symptoms of PTSD have twice the chance of experiencing another cardiac event, or even mortality, within the next one to three years. The results were published and can be found on the online journal PLoS ONE.

PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that triggers in people after a traumatic event – experts describe PTSD as a kind of anxiety.

The PTSD sufferer may have experienced or witnessed an event that caused extreme shock, fear, as well as a feeling of helplessness. The majority of people go through a short period of difficulty coping and adjusting to traumatic events – and gradually recover. Some individuals, however, have persistent and often worsening symptoms, which may last months or even years.

The sufferer’s life may be completely disrupted – in such cases the person suffers from PSTD. To prevent PTSD from becoming a long-term illness it is crucial that the sufferer receive treatment as soon as possible.

Donald Edmondson, PhD, leading author and assistant professor at CUMC commented: “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.”

These heart victims experience such pyschological distress during and/or after their condition that it can cause them harm for the rest of their lives. They may experience symptoms such as recurrent nightmares, flashbacks of the traumatic event, and when reminded of the event they may even experience a surge in heart rate.

There have been several studies suggesting that a syndrome, known as acute coronary syndrome (ACS), causes PTSD, but a link was never confirmed. ACS is used to describe any condition brought about when not enough oxygen reaches the heart muscle. An estimated 1.4 million people in the United States experience an ACS; and because its prevalence is still not known, Dr. Edmondson and his colleagues performed a meta-analysis in order to get a better understanding.

The 24 studies they conducted in the meta-analysis using 2,383 ACS patients found that 1 in 8, or 12 percent, had experienced PTSD symptoms. A total of 4 percent had met full criteria of PTSD. The results they found were alarming.

Dr. Edmondson explains:

“Given that some 1.4 million ACS patients are discharged from U.S. hospitals each year, our results suggest that 168,000 patients will develop clinically significant PTSD symptoms. That is quite substantial.

However, there is abundant evidence that psychological disorders in heart patients are underrecognized and undertreated. In fact, under diagnosis may be even more pronounced in cardiac practices than in other types of medical practices.”

Edmondson continues to explain that once a person experiences a heart attack or other heart condition and develops PTSD, the chances are doubled for that person to experience another cardiac event and even death. This not only causes serious issues for the patients, but for the healthcare system as well, because it adds hundreds of millions of dollars to health expenses each year.

Not many people are aware that ACS may likely cause PTSD, which is a serious concern. Heart patients and their family members need to look out for any symptoms of PTSD so that treatment may be provided. Besides checking for symptoms, it is also important for family members to provide the social support these heart patients need to lessen their chances of developing the disorder.

Written by Sarah Glynn