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Feb 27, 2012

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Veterans' Hearts

Post traumatic stress could greatly increase risk for heart disease.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of anxiety disorder occurring after experiencing a traumatic event. PTSD is very common among military veterans returning from war, as they are often faced with life-threatening situations that can trigger this condition. And the extra stress caused by PTSD might affect cardiovascular health and increase risk for death in Veterans, a recent study shows.

This study published in the American Journal of Cardiology followed 891 veterans for up to 7.5 years. Ninety-one of the veterans had PTSD at the time of enrollment. At the beginning of the study, researchers measured certain biomarkers of heart health in patients and followed them over the study period for any cases of death that occurred. After analysis, they found that veterans with PTSD were not only more likely to have abnormal cardiovascular biomarkers, they were at significantly increased risk for death. And despite the fact that patients with PTSD were often younger with fewer risk factors for heart disease, there was still a trend toward increased mortality in these patients.

Although research in the area of PTSD, cardiovascular risk and mortality is sparse, these findings are consistent with research on stress and heart health. Constant, high levels of stress may worsen cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension or high cholesterol, and could increase risk for heart attack and death. PTSD may work in the same way, having a negative effect on heart health and increasing mortality. However, further studies are needed to clarify exactly how PTSD affects heart health, particularly among veterans.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a biomarker?

  • Biomarkers found in the blood or tissue may be used to indicate a normal or abnormal process, a condition or disease, or how the body is reacting to treatment.
  • Who gets post-traumatic stress disorder?

  • PTSD can occur in anyone experiencing a traumatic event that involves threat of injury or death, including assault, domestic abuse and war.

  • What are the symptoms of PTSD?

  • Symptoms of PTSD often fall into three main categories—reliving the traumatic event, avoidance (feeling detached and lacking emotion or feelings), and hyperarousal (irritable and unable to sleep). Although these symptoms often begin immediately after the traumatic incident, they can show up much later in some individuals, resulting in delayed-onset PTSD.