Defining PTSD and Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a condition that causes irregular or rapid heartbeat. It can cause symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, and dizziness. However, some people experience no symptoms at all.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Symptoms of PTSD can differ from person to person but can include: nightmares or unwanted memories of the trauma, avoidance of situations that bring back memories of the trauma, heightened reactions or hypervigilance (being on guard), anxiety, or depressed mood, as well as delusions or hallucinations.
How are PTSD and Atrial Fibrillation linked?
AF and PTSD are two common conditions affecting the veteran population. Recently, The Heart Rhythm Society (HRS) released a study completed in 2018 that demonstrated a connection between PTSD and AF. Atrial Fibrillation itself is a condition that affects more than 2.7 million American adults every year. According to HRS, that number is presumed to increase to close to eight million by 2050. AF has been linked to several cardiovascular risk factors, including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and sleep apnea. However, Atrial Fibrillation has also begun to be linked to psychological stress and negative emotions in recent data. PTSD is a chronic stress condition and although its connection to AF has not been previously studied, this new information is groundbreaking.
Their study consisted of more than one million patients that had no prior history of Atrial Fibrillation – 1,063,973 to be exact. These patients, post-9/11 veterans, first sought medical care from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) between October 2001 and November 2014.
Results from the 2018 Study
After follow-up examinations almost five years later, 2,491 veteran patients had been diagnosed with AF. The results demonstrated that when a veteran received a new diagnosis of PTSD, they also faced an increased risk for AF. According to Lindsey Rosman, Ph.D. and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Cardiovascular Medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, the data “…suggest that PTSD is a potentially modifiable risk factor for AF…” and the results “…also raise the possibility that early detection and treatment of PTSD may reduce a patient’s risk for developing Atrial Fibrillation.”
Dr. Rosman also noted that the patient population of the study consisted of individuals that were much younger than the average patient diagnosed with AF and that “…less than half had pre-existing structural cardiovascular disease prior to developing AF.” This may be the key to preventing individuals exposed to trauma from developing heart conditions that can be potentially fatally.
More research has to be completed to fully understand the link between and PTSD and AF. The authors of this study are interested in completing clinical trials so that they can assess how earlier treatment of PTSD symptoms affects Atrial Fibrillation or the risk thereof, and whether it can effectively lower the risk of developing AF.
If you have PTSD and Atrial Fibrillation and need help with appealing a disability claim, contact us today.