The Effects of PTSD on Physical Health

July 15, 2016
PTSD and Physical Health

A number of studies have shown that effective stress management has the potential to ward off serious health problems. Unfortunately, some people have significant difficulty coping with stress, especially when they've been exposed to especially shocking, scary or dangerous events, as with post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a recent study, negative PTSD effects may extend well beyond mental and emotional discomfort.
Cardiovascular Problems
To evaluate PTSD's impact on blood vessel health, researchers at the Veteran's Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco recruited 214 veterans. Of those, 67 suffered from PTSD brought on by experiences during military conflict. After measuring how well each participant’s arteries were able to expand and relax, the researchers noted that blood vessels of veterans with PTSD expanded only 5.8 percent compared to 7.5 percent among the veterans without PTSD.
After adjusting for age differences and the presence of other conditions and treatments, the researchers concluded that PTSD was strongly associated with less healthy blood vessels that do not dilate well.
What it Means
While the study focused entirely on veterans, many people in the general public also suffer from PTSD related to troubling experiences, such as physical violence, sexual assault, natural disasters and other forms of trauma. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health estimates that approximately 7.7 million Americans suffer from some type of PTSD.
In turn, many of these people experience prolonged “fight-or-flight” responses, along with nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety that can damage cardiovascular health.
What About Ordinary Stress?
Numerous studies have also drawn a link between poor stress management and shorter life spans. While ordinary stressful life events may not cause PTSD, they can lead some people to remain in a prolonged “fight-or-flight” response, which causes the body to release hormones that can increase inflammation.
Getting Help
If you believe you may be suffering from PTSD, visit your doctor for a physical evaluation. In addition to targeting any potential health issues, he or she will be able to offer potential solutions to help you cope with this serious disorder. Likewise, if you have difficulty coping with everyday stress, try to utilize proven stress-management strategies, such as meditation, exercise and counseling. If your stress results in depression or anxiety, visit your doctor to learn about medications and other treatments that can help.

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