A new study of US veterans suggests that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and metabolic syndrome, the group of symptoms that increases heart disease and diabetes risk, may be linked.
Dr Pia S. Heppner of the Veterans Affairs San Diego Health System in La Jolla and her colleagues found that the more severe a person's PTSD symptoms, the more likely they were to also have the metabolic syndrome. Evidence is mounting that exposure to trauma can worsen physical health, including increasing heart disease risk, Heppner and her team note in the journal BMC Medicine.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a frightening event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Events that may cause PTSD include violent personal assaults, naturally or human-caused disasters, accidents or military combat.
People with PTSD can have a number of symptoms including persistent frightening thoughts and memories of the trauma, or they may feel emotionally numb, especially with friends and loved ones. Sleep problems, detachment and an exaggerated startle response are other common symptoms.
Stress plays a big bart
The metabolic syndrome consists of five factors: high blood pressure; fat accumulation around the waist; low levels of high-density lipoprotein or "good" cholesterol; high triglycerides; and high blood glucose. A diagnosis of the syndrome is made if an individual has three or more of these five cardiovascular risk factors.
Chronic stress is known to change the complex relationship between the brain and hormone-secreting glands, known as the neuroendocrine system. Some investigators suggest that the metabolic syndrome is a consequence of the neuroendocrine system's adaptation to this stress.
To investigate how PTSD might relate to metabolic syndrome, Heppner and her colleagues looked at 253 male and female veterans. Most were male, had served in Vietnam (71%), and the average age was 52.
About 55% had PTSD that was at least moderately severe, while 24% had symptoms of PTSD but did not meet clinical criteria for the disorder. Overall, 40% had metabolic syndrome, while 34% of the vets with PTSD had metabolic syndrome.
What the research revealed
Once the researchers used statistical techniques to remove the possible influence of major depression, substance abuse, gender and other relevant variables, they found that there was a significant relationship between PTSD and metabolic syndrome risk, with the risk being greater for those with more severe symptoms.
The findings provide yet more evidence that trauma can have long-term effects on physical health, Heppner and her colleagues note. "For folks who do have post-traumatic stress symptoms, they also need to be a little bit more aware of what health risks they might have," the researcher told Reuters Health. "It's important for people who have had something catastrophic happen to them take very good care of themselves in the next few months after the event." – (Reuters Health, February 2009)
Some may be predisposed to PTSD
PTSD ups heart disease risk