Stressing Out About the Heart: A Narrative Review of the Role of Psychological Stress in Acute Cardiovascular Events

Paul I. Musey, Katharina Schultebraucks, Bernard P. Chang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


Objectives: Survivors of acute cardiovascular disease (CVD) events, such as acute coronary syndrome (ACS) and stroke, may experience significant psychological distress during and following the acute event. Long-term adverse effects may follow, including the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), increased overall all-cause mortality, and recurrent cardiac events. The goal of this concepts paper is to describe and summarize the rates of adverse psychological outcomes, such as PTSD, following cardiovascular emergencies, to review how these psychological factors are associated with increased risk of future events and long-term health and to provide a theoretical framework for future work. Methods: A panel of two board-certified emergency physicians, one with a doctorate in experimental psychology, along with one PhD clinical psychologist with expertise in psychoneuroendocrinology were co-authors involved in the paper. Each author used various search strategies (e.g., PubMed, Psycinfo, Cochrane, and Google Scholar) for primary research and reviewed articles related to their section. The references were reviewed and evaluated for relevancy and included based on review by the lead authors. Results: A meta-analysis of 24 studies (N > 2,300) found the prevalence of ACS-induced PTSD at nearly 12%, while a meta-analysis of nine studies (N = 1,138) found that 25% of survivors of transient ischemic attack and stroke report PTSD symptoms. The presence of PTSD doubles 3-year risk of CVD/mortality risk in ACS survivors. Cardiac patients treated during periods of ED overcrowding, hallway care, and perceived poor clinician–patient communication appear at greater risk for subsequent PTSD. Conclusions: Psychological stress is often present in patients undergoing evaluation for acute CVD events. Understanding such associations provides a foundation to appreciate the potential contribution of psychological variables on acute and long-term cardiovascular recovery, while also stimulating future areas of research and discovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-79
Number of pages9
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine

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