PTSD Doubles Early-Death Heart Disease Risk
> 7/10/2008 1:08:23 PM

Severe PTSD does far more than rattle the nerves and compromise one’s sense of personal security. It also considerably heightens the risk of early death by heart disease. A recent study found that combat veterans diagnosed with the disorder are nearly twice as likely to succumb to various cardiovascular factors even after controlling for variables like age, income, smoking, concurrent mental illness, alcoholism and drug use.

A statistical assessment of mental and physical health involving more than 4,300 Vietnam-era veterans conclusively linked PTSD with an increased prevalence of cardiovascular problems and early death among older men. The more severe the diagnosis, the more likely the subjects would die from heart failure, stroke, coronary artery disease, etc. The data stream began in 1985, when none of the subjects had been diagnosed with any form of cardiovascular trouble. By the time of the study’s follow-up in the year 2001, when all of the subjects were still younger than 65, those who’d been diagnosed with PTSD were twice as likely to have died due to some form of heart disease. These conclusions stand as evidence not only of PTSD’s complimentary effects on the body but the depth of its long-lasting influence: the conflict in which many of these men experienced their greatest traumas ended 40 years ago.  

The strains that PTSD places on the mind and body are the equation’s most blameworthy component. The recurring incidents of severe anxiety so common to those with chronic PTSD lead to a literal flood of stress hormones that burden a compromised heart, and circulatory system functions. Researchers remain unsure of the precise relationship between stress and the inflammation-fighting regulatory hormone cortisol, but a body under constant strain cannot defend itself against arterial inflammation, shifts in metabolism and blood-sugar balance, high blood pressure, and related damage to the arteries. This recent study’s lead researcher compared the inherent risks of severe PTSD with those who’ve smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 20 years. 

The link between excessive levels of stress and a greater likelihood of heart failure has long been reinforced by testing. The results of this particular study have been approximated before as well, and similar studies performed in 1999 and 2007 came to near-identical conclusions. While statistics varied slightly, they each reported that veterans of combat trauma were significantly more likely to suffer from both PTSD and subsequent heart disease. This study most importantly illustrated the universality of this cause-effect relationship by drawing from a nationwide sample pool and controlling for every related variable. Its general conclusion should be passed along to every victim of severe trauma showing even the slightest symptoms of a related disorder: seek treatment immediately before the condition begins to affect your life in irreversibly negative ways.

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