Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 356,000 Americans experiencing out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each year.
Studies have shown that one in three SCA survivors experiences symptoms meeting the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after hospital discharge.
These elevated PTSD symptoms are associated with increased mortality and cardiovascular risk. However, no psychotherapeutic treatment has been developed and tested specifically for SCA survivors.
A novel pilot study explores the combination of mindfulness and exposure therapy to reduce post-traumatic stress symptoms in this high-risk population.
The study, led by Dr. Maja Bergman and Dr. Yuval Neria, was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. It aimed to address the unique emotional needs of SCA patients by incorporating mindfulness components into exposure therapy.
The treatment protocol, known as Acceptance and Mindfulness-Based Exposure Therapy (AMBET), consisted of eight 90-minute weekly sessions delivered remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions. Key components of the study included:
Exposure Therapy: Revisiting the traumatic event through discussion, guided imagery, and other techniques to help patients confront and process associated memories.
Mindfulness: Incorporating mindfulness practices to normalize physiological stress responses linked to PTSD and cardiovascular risk. Mindfulness also involved exposure to internal body stimuli to promote adaptive behaviors.
Cardiovascular Psychoeducation: Providing information and education on cardiovascular health behaviors.
At the eight-week post-treatment mark, a majority of SCA patients (all but two) no longer met the criteria for PTSD. The trial reported low attrition, high satisfaction ratings, and no adverse effects.
Alongside psychological benefits, AMBET also improved cardiovascular health behaviors, including quality of sleep and increased physical activity, as monitored through Fitbit devices.
The study’s findings open new avenues for treatment for a high-risk patient population and underscore the potential of AMBET in improving coping mechanisms and reducing anxiety related to cardiac activity.
This pilot study demonstrates the potential effectiveness of AMBET, which combines mindfulness and exposure therapy, in reducing post-traumatic stress symptoms in SCA survivors.
While the findings are promising, further research is needed to explore the specific contributions of exposure and mindfulness practices in this population.
The study’s success suggests an opportunity for larger randomized controlled trials in collaboration with experts in cardiovascular health, aiming to provide effective treatments and support for SCA survivors with PTSD.
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The research findings can be found in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
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