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Boston Bombing Triggered Flashbacks in Vets With PTSD, Study Finds

Posted November 13, 2013

Boston-area veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced flashbacks, disturbing memories and other psychological effects after the Boston Marathon bombing, according to a new study.

The findings highlight how tragic events can upset people with PTSD and other mental health disorders. They also show that health care systems must be prepared to care for those who are directly and indirectly affected by such events, the researchers said.

PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that can develop after an extreme emotional trauma, usually involving a close call with injury or death.

The investigators interviewed 71 Boston-area veterans with PTSD within one week of the bombing and found that 38 percent said they were emotionally distressed by the bombing and the subsequent hunt for the suspects.

Most of the veterans said the April 2013 bombing triggered flashbacks and the recurrence of unwanted memories relating to their own past battlefield traumas, according to the study published online Nov. 8 in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

“The effects felt by the veterans were likely due to thematic similarities between the Marathon explosions and the veterans’ own traumatic combat experiences, especially for those deployed to recent conflicts characterized by attacks involving improvised explosive devices,” study principal investigator Mark Miller, an associate professor at Boston University School of Medicine, said in a Boston Medical Center news release.

“This study highlights the fact that tragic local and national events of this type can have a significant impact on the health and well-being of individuals already suffering with PTSD,” explained Miller, also a clinical research psychologist in the National Center for PTSD at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

“It is crucial that relevant health care organizations understand this phenomenon and be prepared in the wake of tragedy to care not only for those who are directly impacted, but also for those with pre-existing psychological conditions, including our nation’s veterans with PTSD,” he added.

It’s estimated that about 8 percent of the U.S. population will develop PTSD in their lifetime, but the rate is as high as 20 percent among combat veterans.

SOURCE: Boston Medical Center, news release

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