Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is caused by exposure to extreme psychological or physical stressors such as abuse, assault, combat, and/or life threatening events. Symptoms often include anxiety, depression, nightmares/flashbacks, anger, irritability, sleep difficulty, fear and more.
Now, research is linking those suffering from PTSD to have an increased risk for heart disease.
In 2007 and funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs, researchers studying veterans from World War II and Korea found that those with symptoms of PTSD had an increased risk of heart attack as they age.
Another study in 2007 funded by the Army found that one year after those soldiers returning from Iraq with PTSD had worse physical health, more doctor visits and more missed work days. The lead author, Laura Kabzansky, postulates that the continual release of adrenaline from our heightened stress response after the event wears heavily on the entire body, including the cardiovascular system.
In 2008, researchers reporting on traumatic environmental events found that just after the 1995 Japan earthquake there was a three-fold increase in myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) and almost a two-fold increase in strokes.
In 2009, The Heart and Soul Study looked at those who already had heart disease and whether PTSD worsened their outcome. They found a worsened quality of life, mild symptom burden and mild physical limitations.
Additionally in 2009, Dr. Beth Cohen found that veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts not only are at a higher risk for developing and dying from cardiovascular disease itself, but are also at a higher risk for developing cardiovascular and stroke risk factors. These included increased smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, abnormal cholesterol levels, and diabetes.
It’s important to take this into consideration if you, a family member or friend is experiencing PTSD because heart problems and their risk factors are often overlooked in favor of improving quality of life and the mental/emotional stress.