Post-traumatic stress disorder: when fear strikes the heart

PTSD is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, but experts are still trying to unravel the link.

During their lifetime, many people experience or directly witness heartbreaking events. These include serious car crashes, violent personal trauma (including sexual assault), natural or man-made disasters, and military combat. Life-threatening health issues, such as sudden cardiac arrest, a devastating stroke, or any illness that requires an extended stay in intensive care, can also traumatize people.

Up to one in five people with such a history suffers from short-term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This debilitating mental health condition is characterized by recurring and frightening episodes in which people relive the traumatic event. Some people develop long-term symptoms (see “Understanding PTSD”). Overall, about 8% of all people will develop PTSD in their lifetime, which can make them vulnerable to other health problems.

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