PTSD a Risk Factor for Long-Term Disease

WEDNESDAY Feb. 13, 2008 -- People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are as likely to have long-term health problems as people with other common, chronic disease risk factors, a new study suggests.

The findings, published in the current edition of The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, come from examining the health status of 4,462 male Vietnam-era veterans 30 years after their military service.

Exposure to trauma has not only psychological effects, but can take a serious toll on a person's health status and biological functions as well, Joseph Boscarino, senior investigator with Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., said in a prepared statement. "PTSD is a risk factor for disease that doctors should put on their radar screens."

The study finds that PTSD was just as good an indicator of a long-term health status as having an elevated white blood cell count, which can indicate a major infection or a serious blood disease such as leukemia.

Veterans with high erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), which indicates inflammation, were also at risk. There was a similar finding for a possible indicator of serious neuroendocrine problems.

While these disease markers are measured with a blood test, PTSD is commonly measured with a psychological test or a mental health examination.

"As the conflicts in the Middle East continue, we're seeing a new wave of our service members who have post-traumatic stress," Boscarino said. "If we don't get these personnel help earlier, our research shows that they may experience more serious health problems down the road."

Almost anyone who experiences a traumatic event can experience PTSD, meaning accident and disaster victims are also predisposed to the biological risk factors associated with PTSD.

Although therapy doesn't necessarily have to be extensive, Boscarino said it should occur shortly after the traumatic event. Early treatment may be critical to avoidance of depression, PTSD and substance abuse problems, he added.

More information

The National Institute of Mental Health has more about post-traumatic stress disorder.

Posted: February 2008


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