Strokes and PTSD

Strokes and mini-strokes, although tragic, are fairly common occurrences. Approximately 800,000 people suffer from a stroke every year. While many of those individuals are over the age of 65, people of all ages are susceptible to stroke. In fact, the UPMC Stroke Institute alone deals with more than 2000 documented stroke cases every year. Those statistics aside, residents of the Pittsburgh area may be particularly susceptible to strokes based on the region's above-average obesity rates. The American Heart Association identifies obesity as a risk factor for the leading cause of stroke - high blood pressure. Excess body weight alone is enough to put an individual at an increased risk for high blood pressure, but obesity may also lead to sleep apnea and diabetes, both conditions increase that risk.

Most people are aware of the debilitating physical impairments that often occur after an individual suffers from a stroke, but new research from Columbia University Medical Center reveals that 23 percent of people who suffer from stroke or mini-stroke also end up with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms within a year. While a stroke or mini-stroke may lead to a disabling physical impairment on its own, symptoms of PTSD provide another route for stroke survivors to qualify for social security disability insurance benefits if they are unable to return to work.

Most people think of PTSD as an illness that veterans suffer through after returning home from battle, but the symptoms of PTSD may actually be more severe in stroke survivors. For the unfortunate individuals who experience stroke-related PTSD, the severe nature of the illness arises from the fact that one is unable to escape the complications within his own body; thus, an individual is in constant fear that physical exertion and stress will lead to another stroke. The illness can cause these individuals to avoid places or events that remind them of the traumatic experience and it can bring about strong feelings of depression and worry.

An individual suffering from the symptoms of PTSD may satisfy the Social Security Administration's impairment listing for an anxiety-related disorder. Anxiety can take the form of many different symptoms. Individuals suffering from PTSD after a stroke will often experience recurring memories and nightmares of the event. In extreme cases, an individual may even suffer from flashbacks. A distressed individual may also be unable to interact with others without becoming excessively irritable or angry. Some individuals even find that symptoms such as sleeplessness, numbness, and panic attacks are so severe that they are unable to maintain focus for extended periods of time. An individual who is unable to concentrate long enough to perform simple tasks like reading a newspaper, cleaning, or cooking dinner may qualify for disability benefits from the SSA. However, in order to qualify for disability benefits on these grounds, the individual should be in treatment with a psychiatrist or other professional who deals with PTSD. Additionally, assistance from an experienced Social Security attorney is advised.

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Source: cbsnews.com, "PTSD strikes one in four stroke survivors," Ryan Jaslow, June 20, 2013

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