When getting sick leaves you with PTSD

Studies explore the mental effects of stroke, heart attack, and cancer

A growing body of research suggests that more patients who suffer from medical conditions—such as strokes, heart attack, or cancer—are being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the Wall Street Journal reports.

For instance, a recent meta-analysis of nine studies involving 1,138 patients found that nearly one in four patients will develop significant PTSD symptoms within a year of a stroke or transient ischemic attacks, which typically do not cause sustained damage. After one year, about 11% of patients are at risk of developing PTSD symptoms, according to the PLOS One study.

Lead author Donald Edmondson of the Columbia University Medical Center estimates that 700,000 Americans have a stroke annually, meaning that well over 150,000 patients may suffer stroke-related PTSD. Moreover, he noted that younger individuals tend to fare worse psychologically and are at a heightened risk of PTSD.

The study echoes research conducted by Edmonson last year, which found that one in eight patients who suffer a heart attack could develop PTSD within a year. Patients that exhibited these symptoms were twice as likely to suffer a second heart attack or die within the next three years.

Meanwhile, separate research has documented PTSD symptoms following diagnoses of prostate or breast cancer and lymphoma.

How to treat disease-related PSTD

Ralph Sacco of the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine believes fear of recurrence underlies PTSD-like symptoms in patients with other ailments. He notes that patients who experience milder strokes are often plagued by anxiety related to having another episode and losing the ability to walk and talk. Stroke care should emphasize both the physical and psychological toll of the condition, he says.

How to deliver sustainable survivorship care: This Oncology Roundtable study outlines the pros and cons of existing survivorship care models, best practices for engaging survivors in post-treatment care, and keys to creating a financially sustainable model.

To date, no research has examined whether disease-related PTSD should be treated differently than PTSD caused by external factors, the Journal notes. Typically, doctors refer a stroke patient with PTSD symptoms to a psychiatrist or psychologist, who may prescribe antianxiety or depression medication (Reddy, Journal, 6/24).


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