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Study examines connection between heart attacks, PTSD and overcrowding in emergency rooms

When a person begins to experience some of the telltale signs of a heart attack -- chest discomfort, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea -- you know that it's time for them to be transported to the local emergency room as soon as possible for the necessary treatment. However, did you ever stop and think that taking them to the hospital might aggravate their condition or even lead to the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder?

Believe it or not, previous studies have linked heart attack patients with the development of certain PTSD symptoms, including anxiety and nightmares. However, what these studies failed to examine was whether the environment of a crowded hospital actually played a role in the onset of these symptoms.

Interestingly, a group of researchers at Columbia University Medical Center recently published a study in JAMA Internal Medicine examining this very issue. Here, they determined that while overcrowding in emergency room settings does not cause the onset of PTSD among heart attack patients, it can still have an impact on their overall mental health.

The researchers arrived at this conclusion after gathering data on 135 patients who suffered heart attacks between 2009 and 2011, and who were all treated at the same New York City hospital.

They determined that those heart attack patients treated on the least busy days at the hospital averaged a three on a test designed to measure PTSD symptoms using a scale of 0 to 88. Conversely, patients treated on the busiest days at the hospital averaged an eight.

According to Donald Edmondson, the study's lead author, while neither score is indicative of a full-blown PTSD diagnosis, it is nevertheless very telling about how overcrowding can create unnecessary stress for already fragile heart attack patients.

"What we're showing here is - aside from the severity of a heart attack - the emergency department environment itself can carry forward and impact a person's psychological adjustment after," he said.

If you or a loved one suffered a heart attack and feel the personnel in the overcrowded emergency room did not do all they could to prevent its occurrence or committed a major medical error, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

Source: Reuters, "Overcrowded ERs, PTSD signs tied in heart patients," Andrew Seaman, Feb. 12, 2013

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