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Heart Attacks and PTSD

Did you know there are an estimated 1.4 million patients each year in the U.S. that suffer heart attacks? Many of us think we know the signs. But do we? Many of the classic signs can be similar to anxiety/panic attacks. These symptoms can include profuse sweating, dizziness, anxiety, shortness of breath and nausea. One significant difference is chest pain but then again many who suffer from acute anxiety complain of a tightness in their chests or bad indigestion. The similarity in symptoms may help to explain why 1 in 8 patients who survive heart attacks proceed to suffer from PTDS. Although the symptoms are internal as opposed to external experiences like combat or traumatic abuse they are just as serious. These symptoms like intrusive thoughts about the heart attack, nightmares and sleep problems can cause a heightened yet constant state of anxiety. There is, or can be, a persistent trepidation about physical health that in turn leads to a fear of exercise or use of medication that can be life saving. How serious are the possible effects of this form of PTSD? Those that suffer in this fashion are twice as likely to die from a second event over the next one to three years than those who don’t develop PTSD.

Only recently have these risks been recognized in the cardiology community. Treatment, however, still lags behind. I have found one of the most effective treatment approaches is group therapy. In a safe, supportive group, fellow patients can share their feelings and experiences. Actually talking about, facing and accepting the feelings of fear and loss of control helps to reduce and often eliminate the troubling, constrictive symptoms of PTSD. Confounding problems associated with this disorder like depression and alcohol/substance abuse can also be addressed via this treatment option.