Aftermath of a Heart Attack

Assumption College Psychology Professor Leonard Doerfler, director of the Aaron T. Beck Institute for Cognitive Studies at Assumption College, and Worcester-based medical doctor John A. Paraskos recently published a literature review on the link between life-threatening heart conditions and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). By compiling the results of 19 studies, Doerfler and Paraskos found data indicating that approximately 15 percent of heart attack and cardiac surgery patients are likely to develop PTSD in the year after their cardiac arrest. Worse, this form of PTSD can often go unrecognized and undiagnosed.

Their analysis, "Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Following Myocardial Infarction or Cardiac Surgery", was published in Heart and Mind: The Practice of Cardiac Psychology, a guide focused on the link between human behavior and cardiac health.

Doerfler and Paraskos note in their findings that the onset of a cardiac event like a heart attack can share many features with other traumatic events, such as combat or violent assaults, known to lead to PTSD. For heart trauma victims, the disorder can then manifest in a variety of ways, such as anxiety, depression, and “hypervigilance” toward bodily sensations that trigger memories of their heart attack or other traumatic heart events. Because of its negative impact on quality of life, Doerfler and Paraskos’ review suggests that patients who experience traumatic heart problems and surgery should consider a screening for PTSD.

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Lorraine U. Martinelle
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