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Mini Stroke Ups Risk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Study Finds

First Posted: Oct 06, 2014 05:00 AM EDT

A mini stroke is associated with an increased risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a new study.

A mini stroke also called as the Transient Ischemic attack (TIA), occurs due to a limited supply of blood to the brain.  A TIA is temporary and lasts for less than five minutes. This attack does not cause any permanent brain damage. It is characterized as a warning stroke and should be taken very seriously. The risks of TIA include smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and family history.

In thelatest study, researchers at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg-Germany found that 1 in 3 patients with TIA develop PTSD, a mental health problem that is triggered by a terrifying event. This condition involves physical harm or the threat of physical harm. This anxiety disorder is extremely stressful.

This is one the early studies that analyzed whether TIA triggers an increased risk for stroke and leads to psychiatric problems in patients.

To investigate this, they studied the data of 108 TIA patients with no earlier history of stroke. They reviewed the participants' answers to a series of questions that evaluated the participant's mental state.

The researchers found that, 30 percent of the patients with TIA displayed symptoms of PTSD. Nearly 14 percent of all the TIA patients had significant reduction in mental quality of life and a 6.5 percent reduction in physical quality of life. Those with PTSD displayed higher signs of depression, anxiety and reduced quality of life.

They, however, assume that the fear of having a stroke and poor coping behavior after TIA may be the key reason for developing PTSD.

"While their fear is partly justified, many patients may be overestimating their risk and increasing their chances of developing PTSD," said Kathrin Utz, Ph.D., a study author. "When experienced together, the symptoms from TIA and depression pose a significant psychological burden on the affected patient; therefore, it comes as no surprise that we also found TIA patients with PTSD have a measurably lower sense of quality of life."

The greater risk of developing PTSD after TIA occurs in those who use a few coping strategies like denial of the problem, blaming oneself for difficulties or taking drugs to seek comfort. However, it is not clear why few develop PTSD after TIA and others do not. 

Researchers have observed that younger patients and those who find it challenging to cope with stress are more vulnerable to psychological problems after TIA.

The finding was documented in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

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