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March 12, 2016

CHOP finds PTSD common among adults with congenital heart disease

Researchers advise caregivers to be more aware of anxiety and depression symptoms

031216_Heartdisease Source/AP

Heart and stethoscope.

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia have found that adults living with congenital heart disease face an elevated risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder relative to the general population. 

In a study conducted by the Philadelphia Adult Congenital Heart Center, a joint project of CHOP and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, researchers determined that a combination of mental health symptoms and cardiac surgery history factor heavily into the higher prevalence of PTSD among CHD patients. 

While about 1 in 5 of the adult patients included in the study displayed PTSD symptoms, 1 in 10 of those patients exhibited symptoms directly related to their heart condition. 

“Although the life expectancy of adults living with CHD has improved, ongoing care may include multiple surgeries and procedures,” said CHOP cardiologist Yuli Kim, the study’s senior author. “These patients remain at risk for both cardiac and non-cardiac effects of their chronic condition, and face unique life stressors that may place them at elevated risk for psychological stress.”

To complete the study, researchers enrolled 134 patients with congenital heart defects and used two validated mental health scales with questions about anxiety, depression and PTSD. On the first scale, 21 percent of patients met the criteria for global PTSD, while 11 percent showed PTSD symptoms related to their heart condition and treatment on the second scale. The range of 11-27 percent is significantly higher than the 3.5 percent rate found in the general population. 

As a result of surgical and medical advances, adults living with CHD now outpace the number of children annually born with the condition, even though it remains the most common birth defect in the United States. The study authors found, however, that the prevalence of PTSD among adults with CHD is comparable to rates observed in children. 

Based on the study's findings, published in the American Journal of Cardiology, the researchers suggest that clinicians and caregivers pay closer attention to signs of anxiety and depression among CHD patients. 

“The high prevalence of PTSD detected in these adult CHD patients has important clinical implications,” said corresponding study author Lisa X. Deng. “We need to conduct more research to identify measures along the lifespan to support our patients and ensure that they have a good quality of life."

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