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1 in 4 Stroke Survivors Suffers From PTSD: Study

And that can pose serious psychological challenges, researcher says

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Barbara Bronson Gray

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, June 19 (HealthDay News) -- Many of those lucky enough to survive a stroke find that they're soon faced with another serious challenge. Nearly one-quarter will develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a new study.

The data show that experiencing a life-threatening health crisis can pose serious psychological challenges, said study lead author Donald Edmondson, an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.

Although post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) typically is associated with combat veterans and sexual assault survivors, the researchers discovered that patients who develop a serious health condition followed by intense treatment may have mental problems that frequently go unrecognized by physicians and family members.

The study, published online June 19 in the journal PLoS ONE, also found that people who develop PTSD after a stroke could have a greater risk for heart problems or another stroke because of the psychological issues they endure.

PTSD is an intense physical and emotional response to a life-threatening or traumatic event. The symptoms fall into three broad types: reliving the event, avoiding usual activities and hyperarousal, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For Peter Cornelis, 62, the trauma of enduring a series of strokes followed by brain surgery left him unable to move for months. He remembers lying in bed mentally designing paintings to help him occupy endless hours with nothing to do.

Over the past four years, he has been slowly rehabilitated, and he now walks with a cane. Although he leads an art class at the local community center in Wantagh, N.Y., he avoids going outside as much as possible, because he suffers from PTSD.

Cornelis said he has little control over his emotions -- from crying when he reads a sentimental greeting card to laughing at nothing at all. Sometimes he blows up without knowing why. He is anxious around people, worrying about how he'll react and how others will respond to him. "And I'm afraid," he said. "Could I have another stroke? Can I make plans for the future?"

But people think he has recovered, Cornelis said. "I look fine, talk perfectly," he said.

Cornelis is not alone. Each year, nearly 300,000 stroke survivors will develop PTSD symptoms because of their health scare, the researchers said. Twenty-three percent will develop PTSD symptoms, and for about 11 percent, the condition will become chronic.

For the study, the researchers analyzed nine prior studies of stroke or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), which are blood vessel blockages that break up quickly and dissolve without lasting damage. Together, the studies included more than 1,100 survivors who were either interviewed or given questionnaires.

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