Living with PTSD and Heart Disease?

Sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may have more to worry about than combat flashbacks, depression and fearful behavior. They may also be at a higher risk for heart disease and be more likely to die of any cause than their peers, according to The American Journal of Cardiology.

Other studies have also reported a possible link between PTSD and various forms of cardiovascular disease. In a recent study of U.S. war veterans, scientists found people with PTSD were more likely to have coronary artery disease – a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply vital blood and oxygen to the heart.

Researchers from the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration Medical Center screened 637 veterans without known heart disease. Most were men and around the age of 60.

Calcium scans of their hearts showed the majority of participants had some sort of plaque buildup in their arteries. More than three-quarters of the vets with PTSD had narrowed arteries, compared to 59 percent of those without PTSD.

Researchers followed participants for an average of three and half years. Over that time, 17 percent of the vets with PTSD died, compared to 10 percent without PTSD.

Even among those with the same degree of plaque buildup, participants with PTSD died at a higher rate.

Statistical analyses “revealed a significant linkage between PTSD and mortality,” scientists wrote in the April online issue of The American Journal of Cardiology.

The study does not explicitly state that PTSD causes heart disease, but it does suggest that PTSD may be more than just a mental disorder.

“For the longest time [PTSD] was basically known as a psychological or psychiatric disorder,” Ebrahimi told Reuters Health. “Little by little we understood that these patients actually do have a fair amount of other medical problems.”

Ebrahimi emphasized that PTSD strikes not only people involved in combat or other violence, but also survivors of rape and natural disasters. []