Study of 400,000 Female Vets Links PTSD to Heart Disease

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PTSD screening
Shay Little, a medical assistant in family practice at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, explains the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) coach to a staff member during National PTSD Screening Day. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anna Arndt/U.S. Navy)

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that female veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are more than twice as likely as male veterans to suffer from ischemic heart disease than those without PTSD.

The study examined nearly 400,000 female veterans, of which nearly one-third suffered from PTSD. The results of that study reflected that female veterans suffering from PTSD were 44% more likely to have the debilitating heart disease than their fellow veterans who did not have PTSD.

A similar study done in 2017 found that male veterans suffering from PTSD were 18% more likely to suffer from heart disease than their fellow veterans who did not have PTSD.

PTSD can affect women and men in different ways. Women with PTSD are more likely to feel depressed and anxious, while men with PTSD are more likely to have problems with alcohol or drugs. However, while both women and men who experience PTSD may develop physical health problems, the severity and preponderance of those symptoms also differ between the sexes. 

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, between 11% and 20% of modern-day veterans suffer from PTSD.

According to the American Heart Association, ischemic heart disease refers to problems caused by narrowing of the arteries. That results in less blood and oxygen reaching the heart muscle and ultimately can lead to a heart attack. 

As with men, the most common symptom of a heart attack in women is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Ischemic heart disease is also known as coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease.

Often, ischemic heart disease has no symptoms and can lead to a heart attack with no prior warning. 

Despite advances in prevention and treatment, cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide. In the U.S., one in four deaths is caused by heart disease.

See: VA Finds PTSD Affects Women Differently Than Men

The study further found that female veterans who suffered from PTSD at relatively young ages, especially those under 40 years old, were at greater risk for heart disease.

The authors of the study recommend that physicians closely monitor patients with PTSD for coronary and related diseases as a result of their findings.

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