PTSD, heart disease are a combo battle for some veterans

By Laura Mize • Published: September 23rd, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the most crushing effects of war for soldiers.

Experts estimate that between 11 and 20 percent of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have P-T-S-D. They often relive horrific war events, may feel on edge all the time and have a generally negative outlook. They may have great fear about everyday situations that remind them of the trauma they suffered.

A recent study of Vietnam War veterans points to another danger for people suffering from this disorder long-term: the possibility of greater risk of heart disease.

Over a period of 13 years, researchers at Emory University studied pairs of male twins who had both served in Vietnam. Men with P-T-S-D were more than twice as likely as those without it to have heart disease. The link between heart problems and P-T-S-D held up even when brothers were compared to each other, showing that genes and environment were not solely to blame for the heart woes. And when the researchers controlled for influences that would contribute to heart disease risk … such as substance use, lack of exercise and other factors … the correlation still held true.

Other studies have pointed to a link between the two conditions, but this one recorded it through images of the heart damage. Men with P-T-S-D had about twice as many areas with reduced blood flow in their hearts, indicating injury, as did those without it.

The researchers said P-T-S-D sufferers often experience high blood pressure, rapid heart rates and funky heart rhythms. Over time, all the stress adds up to harm the heart and may cause heart attacks.

Understanding P-T-S-D’s heart effects is key for treating those who suffer from it. Our veterans have sacrificed much, and deserve to know what they’re up against after the fighting ends.