Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms may develop as a result of an acute, life-threatening traumatic event. Such acute events are quite common in patients with cardiovascular illnesses (ie, a myocardial infarction, acute exacerbations of heart failure or edema). Indeed, PTSD symptoms have been described in a substantial minority of patients who had such events (10% to 25%), and have been shown to be associated with medical morbidity and with non-adherence to medications. This review summarizes available information about these symptoms in patients with cardiovascular illnesses. It also describes the importance of recognizing PTSD as a distinct psychiatric disorder (that can be addressed by specific treatments) and as an important compounding factor in studies of psychopathology in cardiovascular patients. In particular, an argument is made that the understanding of depressive disorders in patients with cardiovascular illnesses should incorporate conceptual and treatment information from the emotional trauma literature if indeed depressive and anxiety disorders are to be successfully treated in these patients. The authors conclude with a description of the challenges and promise of an effort to implement a clinical program to screen for PTSD symptoms in patients with cardiovascular illnesses, and with recommendations for future efforts.