The Path from PTSD to Heart Problems

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) face a higher risk of heart disease at an earlier age than people without PTSD. That was been fairly well established. But why?

A research team’s abstract, recently published in The FASEB Journal, a journal that publishes in the biological sciences, helps explain why.

This research team found evidence of dysfunction in small blood vessels that appears to be driven by the sympathetic nervous system—the system behind the fight-or-flight response—along with oxidative stress, an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the bloodstream. Problems in the small blood vessels are often a precursor to stiffening or narrowing of the larger arteries, which can lead to a heart attack, stroke or other forms of heart disease.

According to lead study author Jennifer Weggen, a PhD student at Virginia Commonwealth University, “We have found that blood vessel dysfunction is more prevalent in young adults with PTSD than those without.” The researchers hypothesized that both oxidative stress and overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system, independently and cooperatively, may ultimately lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

This is an important finding because in any given year about 8 million adults in the U.S. suffer from PTSD, a mental health problem caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Previous studies have shown that PTSD increases a person’s likelihood of having heart disease by as much as 50%.

The abstract is entitled Young adults with post-traumatic stress disorder show changes in small blood vessels.

Written by James Windell, MA

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