A pilot study conducted by researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center has shown promising results in using a combination of mindfulness and exposure therapy to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress in survivors of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). SCA, which affects over 356,000 Americans each year, is a leading cause of death in the United States, with 90% of cases resulting in fatalities. It has been found that one in three survivors of SCA experience symptoms that meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after being discharged from the hospital.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, aimed to explore the effectiveness of a treatment protocol called Acceptance and Mindfulness-Based Exposure Therapy (AMBET) in reducing post-traumatic stress symptoms in SCA survivors. The researchers hypothesized that incorporating mindfulness techniques into exposure therapy could address the unique emotional needs of these patients and improve treatment outcomes.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers recruited a small sample of 11 SCA survivors who met the criteria for PTSD. The participants underwent eight 90-minute weekly sessions of AMBET, which were conducted remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions. The treatment protocol included exposure therapy, mindfulness interventions, and cardiovascular psychoeducation. Exposure therapy involved revisiting the traumatic event through discussion and guided imagery, while mindfulness helped patients normalize physiological stress responses and promote adaptive behaviors.
At the end of the eight-week treatment period, the majority of patients (80%) no longer met the criteria for PTSD. The study also found that AMBET had positive effects on cardiovascular health behaviors, such as improved sleep quality and increased physical activity. Participants wore Fitbit devices to track their steps and sedentary behavior.
The findings of this pilot study suggest that AMBET may be a promising treatment option for SCA survivors with PTSD. However, further research is needed to understand the specific contributions of exposure therapy and mindfulness practices in this population. To address this, the researchers plan to conduct a larger randomized controlled trial in collaboration with the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health. This larger trial will provide more comprehensive insights into the potential benefits of AMBET in improving the psychological and cardiovascular well-being of SCA survivors.
Overall, this pilot study provides encouraging evidence for the use of mindfulness and exposure therapy in reducing post-traumatic stress symptoms in SCA survivors. With further research, this treatment approach has the potential to improve the quality of life for individuals who have experienced the traumatic event of sudden cardiac arrest.