PTSD May Raise Heart Attack Risk for Women

Women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may have a 60 percent increased risk for heart attack or stroke compared to women without PTSD. The findings were published in the journal Circulation.

While PTSD is most often associated with men as a result of military service, PTSD can also affect people after sexual abuse, natural disasters or assault. PTSD symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia and numbed emotions, among others.

Researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health analyzed data from Nurses' Health Study II, an ongoing study that began in 1989 on young and middle-aged women. The study involves 49,978 women and evaluated the relationship between trauma and PTSD symptoms and cardiovascular disease over 20 years. A questionnaire was used to assess different types of trauma and PTSD.

The findings revealed women with four or more PTSD symptoms were 60 percent more likely to experience cardiovascular disease compared to women with no traumatic history. Women who did not identify as having PTSD, but who did previously experience traumatic events were 45 percent more likely to experience cardiovascular disease.

Women with unhealthy lifestyle factors, such as smoking, obesity and lack of exercise, accounted for almost half of the cases tying PTSD to cardiovascular disease. These results indicate that PTSD goes beyond psychological effects to affect physical health as well.

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