03 January 2007

PTSD takes toll on war vets

Two new studies on post-traumatic stress disorder suggest that war veterans have a greater risk of heart attack as they age.

Two new studies on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) suggest that veterans from World War II through to the conflict in Iraq have a greater risk of heart attack as they age and also report worse physical health, more doctor visits and more missed workdays, the Associated Press reports.

The first study, by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Boston University, published in the January 1 Archives of General Psychiatry, joins existing evidence that veterans with PTSD also have more autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and psoriasis. "The burden of war may be even greater than people think,'' said lead author Laura Kubzansky of Harvard, who studies anxiety, depression and anger as risk factors for heart disease.

The second study, funded by the US Army, was based on a survey of 2 863 soldiers one year after returning from combat in Iraq. The findings were published in the January 1 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The groundbreaking Harvard study examined 1 946 male veterans from World War II and Korea, gleaned through data from the Veterans Administration Normative Ageing Study, a long-term research project tracking Boston-area vets. Although the men had different levels of PTSD symptoms, very few had enough symptoms for a true diagnosis, Kubzansky said. The study needs to be repeated to see if the findings hold true for PTSD-diagnosed veterans, and for women, she added.

Inactivity may trigger heart trouble
Dr Gary Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Centre in New York City, called the Harvard study "impressive". Kennedy, who was not involved in the research, said: "We've got a whole generation of veterans coming back [from Iraq and Afghanistan] and their health needs are just going to be tremendous." He added that one symptom of PTSD is avoiding activity, which could account for some of the effect on the heart.

Medical authorities first accepted post-traumatic stress disorder as a psychiatric condition in 1980 at the urging of Vietnam veterans, the AP reported. In PTSD, the body's normal hormonal response to stress becomes trigger-happy, scientists believe. Long after traumatic events, people remain edgy and prone to nightmares and flashbacks. The continual release of adrenaline prompted by these symptoms may wear down the cardiovascular system, Kubzansky said. – (HealthDayNews)

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A-Z of Post-traumatic stress disorder

January 2007


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