In the first major study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) exclusively in women, patients who experienced traumatic events or developed PTSD had a significantly greater risk of cardiovascular disease than those with no traumatic history or PTSD. Data from this research was published in the journal Circulation.

About 50,000 female participants in the Nurses’ Health Study II were asked about different types of traumatic experiences, PTSD symptoms, and cardiovascular disease risk factors such as obesity, lack of exercise, diabetes, cigarette smoking, hypertension, excessive alcohol use, and hormone replacement use. Women with four or more PTSD symptoms had 60% higher rates of CVD vs. women who weren’t exposed to traumatic events; those who reported experiencing traumatic events but had no PTSD symptoms had 45% higher rates of CVD. Nearly half of the association between elevated PTSD symptoms and CVD was attributed to harmful behaviors such as smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, and conditions such as hypertension.

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Lead author Jennifer Sumner, PhD, of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, added that clinicians should be aware of the association between traumatic events, PTSD, and CVD by screening for CVD in patients at risk and encouraging lifestyle changes that may lower this risk.

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