Martin C. Evans

Study Links PTSD to Heart Disease

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2011 at 2:55 pm


Veterans with post traumatic stress disorder are more likely to develop heart disease than those without ptsd, a federal study shows.

The study conducted by researchers at the Greater Los Angeles Health System of the Department of Veterans Affairs, showed that veterans with ptsd developed higher levels of coronary artery calcium, or hardening of the arteries, than veterans with no history of ptsd.

Calcification is associated with arterial plaques, fatty blockages that can restrict the flow of blood to heart muscles, and bring on atherosclerotic heart attacks.

The study, published in April by the American Journal of Cardiology, could raise new concerns that the psychological toll exacted from soldiers has debilitating physical consequences. Some veterans advocates have suggested that Vietnam veterans are dying at a faster rate than their counterparts who were never sent to war.

The authors reviewed electronic medical records of 286,194 veterans, most of them male with an average age 63, who had been seen at Veterans Administration medical centers in southern California and Nevada. Some of the veterans had last been on active duty as far back as the Korean War.

Researchers also had access to coronary artery calcium CT scan images for 637 of the patients, which showed that those with PTSD had more calcium built up in their arteries — a risk factor for heart disease — and more cases of atherosclerosis.

The study showed that veterans diagnosed with PTSD had 2.41 times the rate of death from all causes, compared to veterans without PTSD, after adjusting for age, gender, and common risks for heart disease.

Even though PTSD was diagnosed in only 10.6 percent of all the veterans studied, nearly 30 percent of those who died had PTSD, the results showed.

The research, said to be the first of its kind to draw a direct link between ptsd and atherosclerotic heart disease, was conducted by researchers Dr. Naser Ahmadi and Dr. Ramin Ebrahimi. They said they hope their findings will lead to a greater appreciation of how psychological trauma can have physical consequences.

“The goal would be for PTSD to become part of routine screening [for heart disease risk factors],” Ebrahimi told HealthDay news service.

Although PTSD is commonly associated with war veterans, it’s now also widely linked to people who have survived traumatic events, such as rape, a severe accident or an earthquake, flood or other natural disaster.

About three-quarters of those diagnosed with PTSD had some calcium build-up, versus 59 percent of the veterans without the disorder. As a group, the veterans with PTSD had more severe disease of their arteries, with an average coronary artery calcification score of 448, compared to a score of 332 in the veterans without PTSD — a significantly higher reading.

But scientists are not ready to say with certainty that ptsd causes heart disease. They say behavior choices, such as smoking or heavy drinking, could be responsible for the higher rates of coronary disease among ptsd victims. Stress hormones could also be a factor, as could genetic traits that may influence a person’s risk for both PTSD and heart disease.

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