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Congenital Heart Defects May Increase Risk of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Study

Children born with congenital heart defects, and adults with congenital heart disease (CHD), may face a significantly increased risk of suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) later in life, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published in the March issue of the American Journal of Cardiology, researchers from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) found that one out of every five patients with congenital heart disease experienced dread and anxiety when going to see their doctor, which could sometimes be disabling, as well as constant fear of potential heart problems throughout their everyday life.

“Although the life expectancy of adults living with CHD has improved, ongoing care may include multiple surgeries and procedures,” senior study author, Dr. Yuli Kim, a cardiologist at CHOP, said in a press release. “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.”

The study involved 134 participants, 27 of whom met criteria for PTSD symptoms. The researchers found that 11% to 21% of those who had been treated for congenital heart disease had PTSD. By comparison, only 3.5% of the general populace exhibits signs of PTSD.

Researchers stressed that doctors and caregivers need to be aware of symptoms of PTSD in patients with congenital heart disease or born with congenital heart defects. These can manifest as anxiety and depression.

Heart defects are the most common type of birth defect in the United States. Researchers noted that surgical and medical advances have ensured that more of those children than ever before reach adulthood.

“The high prevalence of PTSD detected in these adult CHD patients has important clinical implications,” said Lisa X. Deng, a corresponding author in the study. “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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