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Jeffrey Scherrer discusses PTSD and heart attacks

A heart attack is one traumatising medical condition. Sometimes, it fetches a renewed vigour and appreciation for one’s life and sometimes, it consumes an individual’s life simply by making them anticipate a second heart attack. According to a survey, 1 out of 8 heart-attack survivors go through a condition popularly known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Even though the disorder is closely linked to survivors of war, accidents, rape or natural disorders, recently, it can also be found in heart-attack survivors. It often includes a flashback of the trauma as intrusive thoughts, rapid breathing, and nightmares.

The development of PTSD jeopardises the health of a heart-attack survivor to the point where he might experience a second one. This is primarily because the disorder prevents them from taking their prescribed cardiovascular medication. It was noticed that people with ACS or Acute Coronary Syndrome showed more signs of PTSD. ACS is a term that suggests when the blood supply to the heart is blocked and also suggests a heart attack.

According to Jeffrey Scherrer, a research director in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the Saint Louis University’s Centre for Health Outcomes Research in Missouri, “Whether someone has PTSD and then has a heart attack or develops PTSD after a heart attack, it can affect outcomes. To improve adherence, doctors need to screen for PTSD and be aware of its potential to drive recovery.”

After a heart attack, doctors generally prescribe medications to keep the cholesterol in check and prevent blood clots. Scherrer suggests that instead of looking for signs of PTSD, these cardiologists are more imperatively looking for a common ground “between cardiologists and mental health experts.”

Dr. Ian Kronish who is a general internist at Columbia University Irving Medical Centre in New York suggests that cardiologists or clinicians should openly talk to their patients about the impact a heart-attack might have on their mental health. He says, “Of course, not everyone reacts this way to the acute coronary syndrome. But those who do should know that treatments are available.”

Subarna Basu