The delayed ‘Trauma Drama’ of heart disease

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by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Summer Ash is a self-professed space cadet. She’s an astrophysicist at Columbia University’s Department of Astronomy in New York City, where she serves as the Director of Outreach.* Five years ago, she underwent open heart surgery after she was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm (that’s when the tissue of the aorta balloons out dangerously). This condition was likely linked to a congenital heart defect Summer was born with called a bicuspid aortic valve. About 99% of people, she explains, are born with a normal tricuspid aortic valve (meaning three leaflets in the valve), but she was one of the 1% born with only two. With her kind permission, I’m running her story here as it was originally published in 2014 on her blog, Defective Heart Girl Problems.
Continue reading “The delayed ‘Trauma Drama’ of heart disease”

Post-Traumatic Growth: how a crisis makes life better – or NOT

Full disclosure: I’ve always felt a bit squirmy when patients facing a life-altering medical crisis cheerfully declare that this diagnosis isn’t only NOT dreadful, but it’s actually quite fabulous! But before I dig into that theory, let’s look at this positivity phenomenon.
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Psychologists sometimes refer to it as “Post-Traumatic Growth”.
Continue reading “Post-Traumatic Growth: how a crisis makes life better – or NOT”

How a heart attack can trigger PTSD

 by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

This guest post was originally posted online by Holly Strawbridge of Harvard Health Publications on June 25, 2012.

Joep Roosen Amsterdam A heart attack is a life-changing event. For some people, surviving a heart attack brings renewed appreciation for life. For others, the event is so traumatic that worrying about having a second heart attack consumes their lives.

By the latest account, one in eight heart attack survivors experiences a reaction called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although PTSD is usually associated with extreme trauma such as war, rape or a natural disaster, heart attack survivors can experience the same key symptoms: flashbacks that occur as nightmares or intrusive thoughts. As a result, the survivor actively tries to avoid being reminded of the event and becomes hyper-vigilant worrying that it will happen again.  

It’s a high price to pay for having your life spared.   Continue reading “How a heart attack can trigger PTSD”

Yale Heart Study asks why we wait so long before seeking help in mid-heart attack

Did you know that even when experiencing textbook heart attack symptoms (like my own chest and left arm pain), people wait an average of four hours before seeking medical help?  The tragic irony is that heart patients who do best are those who can be treated within the first hour of those initial acute symptoms.

Heart attacks are dangerous and scary – so why do so many of us suffer silently for hours (and in many cases, far longer?)  This treatment-seeking delay behaviour concerns many researchers, including Yale University’s Dr. Angelo Alonzo. He told me:

“Ask people what they would do if they had a heart attack and, of course, they’d all  insist they would seek care immediately.  Sounds easy!  But in reality, few people actually do drop everything to get help.”    Continue reading “Yale Heart Study asks why we wait so long before seeking help in mid-heart attack”

The new country called Heart Disease

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

My doctor recently compared my uneasy adjustment since suffering a heart attack to being like a stressful move to a foreign country.

I used to be pretty comfortable in my old country, pre-heart attack. I was healthy, active, accomplished, outgoing, and a former distance runner. I had a wonderful family and a whack of close friends, a meaningful career I really loved, a crazy-cute cat, a condo renovated top to bottom in a charming leafy neighbourhood of the most beautiful city in Canada – and a busy, happy, regular life.

Then on May 6, 2008, I was hospitalized with a myocardial infarction – what doctors still call the “widowmaker” heart attack.

And that was the day I moved far, far away to a different country.  Continue reading “The new country called Heart Disease”

Women heart attack survivors may be as psychologically traumatized as victims of violence

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

I’ve sometimes heard doctors describe a heart attack as “small”. But only doctors – you’ll rarely hear a heart attack survivor say it. Doctors who talk this way are looking only at blood tests that assess heart muscle damage, angiograms for coronary artery blockages, EKG readings for erratic heartbeats, and echocardiograms for valve damage or reduced heart function.

If these test results on paper aren’t too deadly – well, it must be only a “small” heart attack.

But a study reported in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology last month reinforced what all heart attack survivors already know but their doctors may not: a heart attack can leave people as psychologically traumatized as victims of violence. Continue reading “Women heart attack survivors may be as psychologically traumatized as victims of violence”