Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is primarily associated with people who have gone through combat or sexual assault, but research suggests that PTSD can also be the result of medical trauma. A study published last week found that about 25% of stroke survivors also exhibit the symptoms of PTSD: flashbacks, avoidance, and hyper-vigilance, among others.

Within a year after experiencing a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA, or mini-stroke), 23% of survivors also suffered from PTSD. Moreover, 11% reported experiencing PTSD more than a year after the initial stroke.

The researchers conducted a meta-study: they read through all the existing research they could about PTSD and stroke survivors, eventually focusing their research on nine studies that met their criteria. Two of the studies were conducted via interviews with a clinician, while the other seven relied on a screening questionnaire to diagnose PTSD.

They found that PTSD was most prevalent one year after stroke, which surprised the researchers. Research team member Dr. Ian Kronish, a general internist at Columbia, commented, “Until doing this research, I hadn’t really thought of PTSD being due to a medical event.”

The data from the combined studies resulted in profiles of 1,138 participants from the U.S. and Europe. Each participant had been evaluated for PTSD between one month and five years post-stroke.

PTSD affects around 7.7 million adults in the United States. Previous research established that medical trauma can be a source of PTSD. Prior studies found that survivors of heart attacks suffered from PTSD, which is problematic because PTSD is correlated with increased risk for heart disease or stroke.

In the future, the researchers hope to conduct longitudinal research on the same group of participants in order to establish whether PTSD increases their risk for additional stroke or heart disease.

Prevalence of PTSD in Survivors of Stroke and Transient Ischemic Attack: A Meta-Analytic Review was published in PLOS One last week.

To learn more about how iLs can assist with PTSD, visit our case studies page.