Heart Attacks and PTSD: A Vicious Cycle

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- PTSD is a type of anxiety that occurs after a severely frightening experience. Sufferers experience nightmares, high blood pressure and an increased heart rate. Often, they live in fear of things that would remind them of the initial traumatic event.

PTSD is usually associated with war, assault, abuse and violence -- but new research suggests that heart patients also battle this disorder.

Donald Edmondson, a professor of behavioral medicine specializing in cardiovascular health at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, led a study examining the relationship between heart attack and PTSD. This review of 24 studies involved more than 2,000 patients, and revealed that one in eight heart patients develop significant symptoms of PTSD.

Considering the fact that 1.4 million Americans are hospitalized for cardiac events each year, the findings suggest a substantial portion of the population may be living with psychological trauma and not realize why.

"I became interested in the relationship between PTSD and heart attacks after watching my patients," Edmondson said. "Once the physical threat is over, the family is ready to move on. But for the patients themselves, it's not over with. It's with them every day. "

The new analysis also suggests that heart patients who suffer PTSD face twice the risk of having another cardiac event -- or even dying within one to three years -- compared to patients without psychological symptoms.

Doctors hope that knowing about the specific relationship between heart attack and PTSD will continue to improve treatment for better mental and physical health.

"We can't intervene on the battlefield to prevent soldiers from getting PTSD," Edmonson said. "But there may be things we can do to help protect our patients."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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