Stress and Disease of Body Organs (2)

Continuing on the theme of stress and disease of body organs,  a recent study*  of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from Hamburg, Germany  begins by citing research by others that war veterans with  PTSD have been shown to have more  illness of the heart, lungs, nerves and digestive system  than war veterans without PTSD.

In their study, they surveyed 3200 Germans aged 20-79 (so a number of them would have been alive during World War II).  55% had been exposed to trauma (military combat, assault, rape, natural disaster, childhood abuse, life-threatening illness, serious accident, imprisonment or torture, unexpected death of a loved one, learning about or witnessing the trauma of others).  2% of the entire group had PTSD (comparable to the U.S.).

They found that the PTSD group was significantly more likely to be depressed, abuse alcohol, smoke, be obese and be unmarried than the group with no trauma.  The PTSD group also had completed fewer years of school.

After using statistical techniques to adjust for the impact of age, gender, marital status, education, smoking, body mass, blood pressure, depression and alcohol use, the researchers looked for differences in physical health.  Even after taking all those factors into account, the PTSD group was significantly more likely (by a factor of 2-3) to have chest pain from heart disease, heart failure, inflammation of the breathing passages (bronchitis), asthma and hardening of the arteries in the limbs.

What these diseases have in common is inflammation.  The authors cite other research that PTSD may promote inflammation through its effects on stress-related hormones.  The authors are also careful to acknowledge that their data do not prove PTSD causes these illnesses, they just show a strong association.  However, they speculate that successful treatment of PTSD might reduce a patient’s risk for these illnesses in the future.

There is additional general information on the NIMH PTSD page.

*Spitzer, C et al.  Trauma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Physical Illness: Findings from the General Population.  Psychosomatic Medicine 71:1012-1017.  2009.

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