PTSD May Lead to Higher Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases

A new study in behavioral cardiology establishes a strong link between posttraumatic stress disorder and an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases and deaths.

A new study in behavioral cardiology establishes a strong link between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases and deaths.

According to the study, PTSD is linked to endothelial dysfunction, ultimately leading to the development and progression of cardiovascular diseases. Veterans suffering from PTSD are more likely to have worse endothelial vascular functions. A healthy endothelial function controls the flow of nutrients and toxins from the blood stream to the brain and body. It also plays a key role in regulating blood vessel dilation, blood pressure, clotting and inflammation.

Stress of an environmental or physiological nature can very well have a negative effect on the nervous, cardiovascular and immune system. In other words, PTSD can increase the risk of heart diseases and mortality. The research is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Characteristics of Individuals With PTSD

For the study, the researchers assessed the vascular function and presence of PTSD in 214 patients from the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) between June 2011 and August 2015. Of these, 136 veterans were referred to the surgery clinic and 78 veterans were receiving care in the medical clinic.

Certain demographic and physical characteristics such as age, race, sex, hip and waist circumference, blood pressure, and body mass index were also taken into account. Their history of cardiovascular diseases and smoking were also recorded for the study.

The results were as follows:

  • Most of the patients with PTSD were likely to be male and suffering from depression.
  • Out of the 214 participants, 31% had PTSD.
  • The patients that had PTSD also had worse endothelial function.

Physiological Conditions Affect the Heart

Even after adjusting for demographic, comorbidity, and treatment characteristics, PTSD remained strongly linked to worse endothelial function in the study group. Furthermore, this poor endothelial function contributes to the higher risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with PTSD.

Approximately 8 million Americans suffer from PTSD every year. Therefore, understanding the impact of stress disorder on cardiovascular health is critical. This understanding could help clinicians and doctors to determine the best strategies to treat veterans with comorbid PTSD and heart diseases.

Also, patients who have PTSD could have an increased risk of hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes, obesity, and tobacco use. So PTSD is not just related to traditional cardiovascular risks. The physiological and mental health could have different ways of translating into poor heart health.

“Based on current data, damage to the endothelial lining of blood vessels appears to be worsened by mental or psychological stress,” said Marlene Grenon, MDCM, MMSc, FRCSC, and the lead author of the study.