Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Often Follows Stroke
June 20, 2013

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Often Follows Stroke

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

For many, suffering a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) is unfortunately just the beginning of their battle, as a new study from the Columbia University Medical Center shows that these folks often experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after such events.

According to the new report in the open access journal PLoS ONE, almost 1 in 4 people suffer from symptoms of PTSD within the first year following the event and 1 in 9 experience chronic symptoms of the stress disorder more than a year later.

"This work builds on recent findings of ours that PTSD is common among heart attack survivors and that it contributes to a doubled risk of a future cardiac event or of dying within one to three years. Our current results show that PTSD in stroke and TIA survivors may increase their risk for recurrent stroke and other cardiovascular events," said co-author Dr. Donald Edmondson, an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia. "Given that each event is life-threatening and that strokes/TIAs add hundreds of millions of dollars to annual health expenditures, these findings are important to both the long-term survival and health costs of these patient populations."

"PTSD is not just a disorder of combat veterans and sexual assault survivors, but strongly affects survivors of stroke and other potentially traumatic acute cardiovascular events as well," said co-author Dr. Ian M. Kronish, an assistant professor of medicine at the medical center. "Surviving a life-threatening health scare can have a debilitating psychological impact, and health care providers should make it a priority to screen for symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD among these patient populations."

For the study, the Columbia doctors and their colleagues performed a critical review of clinical studies involving stroke- or TIA-induced PTSD. The nine studies included in the review involved over 1,100 stroke or TIA survivors.

According to the report, PTSD assessments in the reviewed studies were performed between 1 and 60 months after the stroke or TIA. The patient assessments were made through either a questionnaire or clinical interview.

"PTSD and other psychological disorders in stroke and TIA patients appear to be an under-recognized and undertreated problem," Kronish noted.

"Fortunately, there are good treatments for PTSD," Edmondson said. "But first, physicians and patients have to be aware that this is a problem. Family members can also help. We know that social support is a good protective factor against PTSD due to any type of traumatic event."

"The next step is further research to assess whether mental health treatment can reduce stroke- and TIA-induced PTSD symptoms and help these patients regain a feeling of normalcy and calm as soon as possible after their health scare," he added.

According to the American Stroke Association (STROKEORG), almost 800,000 Americans each year suffer their first or a subsequent stroke, and up to an additional 500,000 suffer a TIA. PTSD is an anxiety disorder marked by nightmares, avoidance of psychological triggers, and elevated blood pressure. Chronic PTSD is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as experiencing these symptoms for three months or longer.