The Relationship between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Cardiovascular Diseases

ptsd heart

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has shaped the lives of many.  Posttraumatic stress disorder a type of anxiety disorder initiated by exposure to a traumatic event. The disorder is characterized by intrusive thoughts about the event and attempts to escape and avoid reminders of such event, and physiological hyperarousal. These symptoms are often developed after exposure to certain events such as combat, rape, violent assault, or natural disaster. The disorder has been shown to affect around 3.5 percent of adults in the United States.

A large number of prospective observational studies on PTSD have been associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), heart failure and sometimes mortality. Also, in recent years, several studies have demonstrated that cardiovascular events can themselves cause PTSD in roughly 12.5 percent of patients with acute coronary syndrome. Further, a few small studies suggest that PTSD secondary to an acute CVD event then places patients at increased risk for subsequent CVD events and mortality. In this article, we review the evidence for a link between PTSD and CVD, and discuss potential mechanisms for that association as well as future directions for research.

Recently, a large Swedish population study discovered credible and robust evidence between psychiatric conditions that can follow extremely stressful experiences and the risk of several types of cardiovascular disease.

The scientists also discovered that the risk of a heart attack and other sudden and severe cardiovascular events is especially high in the 6 months that follow the diagnosis of the stress-related condition. The study involved retrospective analysis of data between 1987–2013 from the Swedish National Patient Register on 136,637 patients who were managed for stress-related disorders such as PTSD, acute stress reaction, adjustment disorder, and other stress reactions.

The researchers ran comparisons between this “exposed” cohort and two other “unexposed” cohorts, one comprising 171,314 full siblings and the other comprising 1,366,370 matched individuals from the general population. By unexposed, the researchers mean free of stress-related conditions

The team first calculated the average rate of cardiovascular disease among the three cohorts over the period of the study. This came to 10.5 per 1,000 person-years for the exposed group and 8.4 and 6.9 for the unexposed sibling and matched general population cohorts, respectively.

After prolonged data analysis, the researchers were able to discover the link between psychiatric conditions resulting from trauma or highly stressful life events and a raised risk of developing a wide range of cardiovascular related conditions. These links were particularly marked during the 12 months following the psychiatric diagnosis.

The results of the study showed that those with a stress-related illness were 64 percent more likely to develop a form of cardiovascular disease in the 12 months after a psychiatric diagnosis than their unexposed siblings. Comparisons with unexposed, matched members of the general population yielded a similar result.

The researchers concluded that there is a need for prescribers and psychiatrists to understand that cardiovascular disease could be more likely to develop following highly stressful events that lead to diagnoses of stress-related conditions, especially during the first year. And this should be taken into consideration when managing individuals suffering from a wide range of anxiety disorders such as PTSD.