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About one out of every eight heart attack patients develops symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Previous research has shown that experiencing PTSD after a heart attack increases both the risk of a second heart attack and the risk of death in the next three years. So it only makes sense that doctors would do whatever possible to prevent PTSD in heart attack victims.

Until now, no one knew why some patients are more likely than others to experience PTSD symptoms after a heart attack. But, a new study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, has found that treatment in overcrowded emergency rooms may increase a heart attack patient’s risk of PTSD.

The study was based on medical records and interviews with 135 heart attack patients who were treated at a New York City hospital between 2009 and 2011. Traffic in the emergency room ranged from 199 to 255 people treated per day.

Patients who sought treatment when the emergency room was not busy scored an average of 3 on a test that evaluates PTSD symptoms on a scale from 0 to 88. Patients admitted when the emergency room was overcrowded scored an average 8 points on the test. While the difference is significant, neither group scored high enough to be diagnosed with PTSD.

This study doesn't prove that crowded emergency rooms cause post-traumatic stress disorder, but indicates that hospital environment can affect patients' mental health.

Unfortunately, a crowded emergency room can affect more than a patient’s mental health. Overcrowding can also affect a patient’s physical health. A 2009 survey of emergency room directors found that found that overcrowding is a problem in 90 percent of U.S. hospitals at least several times a week. When emergency rooms are overcrowded, patients are more likely to experience increased wait times, delays in treatment, injury and death.

If your loved one suffered an injury due to a delay in treatment in an Illinois emergency room, you have a right to seek accountability. To discuss your own case, please contact the Rockford medical malpractice attorneys at Hupy and Abraham at 800-800-5678. The initial consultation is free.

Jason F. Abraham
Managing Partner, Hupy and Abraham
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