New information from a team of researchers in Germany and the United Kingdom suggests that patients who experience a transient ischemic attack (TIA), often known as a “mini-stroke,” are at risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A TIA rarely lasts more than five minutes and usually no more than one minute. Like a true stroke, a TIA is caused by a blood clot, but in the case of a TIA, the clot dissolves or dislodges quickly. A TIA does not result in permanent brain damage. However, there is no way to immediately distinguish between a TIA and a full stroke when the symptoms first begin. Any time such symptoms appear, emergency services should be immediately notified and the patient rushed to the hospital. Since there is no way to distinguish a TIA from a full stroke until the symptoms pass, a mini-stroke can be an extremely frightening experience. The results of the new study from researchers at Friedrich-Alexander University and the University of Liverpool suggest that the experience can even be sufficiently traumatic to lead to PTSD in some patients.
Nearly One-Third of TIA Patients Report PTSD Symptoms
The researchers selected 108 patients who had recently experienced a TIA but who had no prior history of stroke. These patients were asked to respond to a questionnaire that evaluated their mental and physical quality of life and determined the presence of any mental illness symptoms suggesting the presence of depression, anxiety or PTSD. The results revealed that 30 percent of the 108 TIA patients experienced symptoms of PTSD, and that 14 percent showed reduced mental quality of life. Among the patients with symptoms of PTSD, the data also showed more signs of anxiety and of depression.
Knowledge of Risk May Contribute to PTSD Onset
The German and U.K researchers speculate that fear of future stroke events and permanent brain damage contributes to the rise of PTSD. A TIA is sometimes also called a “warning stroke” because patients who have suffered a TIA are more likely to experience a more severe stroke. Patients who have suffered a TIA are genuinely at high risk for stroke—about one third of TIA patients will suffer a stroke within the next year. However, the majority of people who suffer a stroke will not have a history of TIA, and those who do, although the experience is very distressing, can take advantage of the warning and take steps to avert another stroke event. For that reason, it is important that patients who have experienced a TIA be made aware of the risk of another stroke event. However, the results of this study suggest that this knowledge often creates understandable fear that can contribute to the rise of mental health problems.
Physical, Mental Health Must Be Monitored After TIA
After a TIA, monitoring a patient’s physical health becomes a top priority. A variety of lifestyle factors and other treatable conditions can increase the risk of stroke, and addressing these physical conditions can be crucial to avoiding a full stroke. This includes lowering blood pressure in patients with hypertension and helping patients to quit smoking, reduce alcohol consumption or lose weight. While these are important factors to address, this new study suggests that healthcare providers should also monitor the mental health of their patients following a TIA. The researchers found that a history of TIA combined with symptoms of PTSD or depression created “a significant psychological burden” and greatly lowered a patient’s quality of life.