Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had almost a 50% higher risk of developing heart failure over a seven-year follow-up period compared to their peers without PTSD, a study has found. Findings from the study are published in the American Journal of Public Health.

For the study, researchers followed 8,248 veterans who were outpatients in the Veterans Affairs (VA) Pacific Islands Health Care System; veterans were followed for an average of just over seven years, of which 21% were diagnosed with PTSD. Study data showed that veterans with a PTSD diagnosis were 47% more likely to develop heart failure during the follow-up period. Specifically, heart failure was seen in 287 of those with PTSD vs. 84 of those without PTSD.

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A strong predictor of heart failure observed in the study was combat service. Veterans with combat experience were about five times more likely to develop heart failure during the study period vs. those who had no combat experience. Other predictors included advanced age, diabetes, high blood pressure, and overweight/obesity.

Study authors were not able to distinguish whether combat location (Gulf vs. Iraq or Afghanistan) or racial/ethnic identity affected the link between PTSD and heart disease. Findings further support the bridge between mental and physical health. The VA and other healthcare systems may need to implement efforts in the prevention and treatment of heart failure among those with PTSD, authors conclude.

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