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Study Links PTSD to Heart Disease for Female Veterans

Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a report stating that female veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are more than twice as likely to suffer from ischemic heart disease than those without PTSD.

The study consisted of 398,769 female veterans – a third of which had PTSD, two thirds did not. It concluded that those with PTSD had a 44% higher rate of developing ischemic heart disease than those without. Moreover, when these results are compared with a 2017 study that was conducted similarly but in a male veteran sample population, staggering differences are apparent. Male veterans who suffered from PTSD were only 18% more likely to suffer from heart disease.

These findings suggest that female veterans with PTSD are more than twice as likely to develop ischemic heart disease than male veterans with PTSD, when compared to their respective female and male counterparts.

These discrepancies may have to do with how PTSD affects men and women. Studies have shown that women are more likely to feel depressed and anxious while men are more likely to have problems with alcohol or drugs. The source of the PTSD is also likely to have an impact on how each of these groups experiences their trauma. For example, women are more likely to experience sexual harassment or sexual assault. Furthermore, studies have shown that sexual assault is more likely to cause PTSD than many other events. Both groups experiencing PTSD may develop health problems. What may differ, is the severity or preponderance of symptoms among the two groups.

The American Heart Association describes ischemic heart disease as problems caused by narrowing of the arteries, which results in less oxygen and blood reaching the heart muscle. This can ultimately lead to a heart attack.

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide. One in four deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease even with all of the advances in prevention and treatment.

The Journal’s study also found that female veterans who suffered from PTSD at a younger age, especially those under forty, were at a greater risk for heart disease.

Female veterans who have had PTSD are advised to monitor for coronary and related diseases with their doctors. The VA has established a Women Veterans hotline at 855-VA-WOMEN (829-6636) specifically dedicated to helping female veterans and their families.

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