PTSD strikes one in four stroke survivors

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may plague some stroke survivors, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center reviewed nine studies involving more than 1,100 patients, and found about one in four survivors of a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) experiences PTSD symptoms within a year of the event, with some experiencing symptoms even longer.

"PTSD is not just a disorder of combat veterans and sexual assault survivors, but strongly affects survivors of stroke and other potentially traumatic acute cardiovascular events as well," study author Dr. Ian M. Kronish, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia's Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health in New York City, said in a written statement. "Surviving a life-threatening health scare can have a debilitating psychological impact, and health care providers should make it a priority to screen for symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD among these patient populations."

The findings were published June 19 in PLoS One.

More than 795,000 people suffer strokes each year in the United States, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. About three-quarters of them occur in people over 65, with stroke risk doubling each decade after 55 years of age.

Symptoms can suddenly appear, including vision changes, numbness, loss of movement in the face or extremities (often on one side of the body), confusion, balance problems or a sudden severe headache, WebMD reported.

There are two types of strokes: Ischemic or hemorrhagic. About 87 percent of all strokes are ischemic, which is caused by a blockage in a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain, the American Stroke Association said.

People can also experience a "mini stroke" known as a TIA, in which symptoms only last a minute or so and do not cause permanent brain damage. About 500,00 people suffer a TIA each year.

For the study, researchers analyzed data on stroke and TIA survivors, and determined 23 percent developed PTSD symptoms within the first year of the event, while 11 percent -- one in nine -- experienced chronic PTSD symptoms more than one year later.

PTSD, an anxiety disorder, can cause a person to experience flashbacks, bad dreams and frightening thoughts, the National Institute of Mental Health notes. It could also cause people to avoid places or events that remind them of their traumatic experience and could bring about strong feelings of guilt, depression and worry. People with PTSD could be easily startled or feel "on edge," and have trouble sleeping.

Often associated with soldiers returning from combat, PTSD can also be brought on by traumatic crimes like mugging, rape, kidnapping, shootings and abuse or incidents like car accidents, plane crashes, bombings, natural disasters.

And now, researchers say add strokes to the list.

"Patients have a lot of re-experiencing of the event which are things like having nightmares or flashbacks or just having lots of thoughts about having had the stroke that they don't really want to be having," Kronish told CBS News' Marlie Hall.

The researchers next want to study whether mental health treatments can reduce stroke-related PTSD symptoms to allow patients to feel normal and calm again following their health scares. Currently, PTSD treatments include psychotherapy and medications for depression or to help sufferers sleep.

Peter Cornelis survived six strokes and brain surgery that left him struggling with headaches and temporarily paralyzed. He now experiences depression and anxiety. The 62-year-old told CBS News he paints to help him focus.

"You're always worried about having it happen again," he said, but he's trying to maintain a positive outlook.

"Life is still good, life gets better, even with the symptoms of PTSD if you can get up every day and just feel good about the day."

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