PTSD and Heart Disease in Women

CNN recently reported on the results of a 20 year study that show women with post-traumatic stress face a 60% higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In addition, the study discovered that women who experienced a trauma without reporting any PTSD symptoms still faced a 45% higher risk of heart attack and stroke than women who did not report any trauma in their lives.

PTSD Occurrence

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is twice as common in women as in men occurring in some people following a traumatic event in their lives. Those with PTSD may experience flashbacks of the traumatic event, insomnia, fatigue, trouble with memory or focus and a feeling of emotional numbness. Other symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, irritability, or of being easily startled or upset. A knowledgeable psychiatrist will be able to successfully direct the treatment plan to manage both mental health and physical health concerns.

Cardiovascular Disease vs PTSD Symptoms

Data from the 20 year study indicated that almost half of the association between elevated PTSD symptoms and cardiovascular disease was accounted for by unhealthy behaviors like smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and medical factors such as high blood pressure. While PTSD is typically looked at as a psychological disorder, findings from the study point to the profound impact PTSD has on physical health, specifically cardiovascular risk, making PTSD a potentially serious health impacting mental health disorder.

PTSD Symptoms

PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into one of four types: 1) intrusive memories, 2) avoidance, 3) negative changes in thinking and mood, or 4) changes in emotional reactions. The symptoms most commonly seen in each type follow:

Intrusive Memories – symptoms may include:

  • Reliving the traumatic event over and over again
  • Unwanted distressing memories recur frequently
  • Upsetting dreams related to the traumatic event
  • Severe emotional distress
  • Emotional or physical reactions to reminders of event

Avoidance – symptoms seen include:

  • Avoiding places, people or activities that reminds one of the traumatic event
  • Making an effort to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event

Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood – symptoms include:

  • Having negative feelings about oneself or others
  • Being unable to experience positive feelings or emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Feelings of hopelessness or impending doom
  • Memory loss related to important details about traumatic event
  • Trouble maintaining close relationships

Changes in Emotional Reactions – symptoms for this include:

  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Feeling constantly on guard for danger
  • Expressions of irritability, aggressive behavior, outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Experiencing sleep disturbances
  • Finding yourself easily startled or frightened

Treatment for Women with PTSD

There has been great success in treating PTSD with a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. An experienced psychiatrist understands the connection between PTSD and increased risk of cardiovascular disease; both the mental and physical aspects of PTSD will be covered in a treatment plan geared to individual needs.

Call the office to set up an initial visit at a time convenient to your schedule.

About Darvin Hege

Dr. Darvin Hege, MD, PC, is based in Atlanta, Georgia, and certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. He is an Emory Hospital residency trained psychiatrist who has been practicing psychiatry for more than 25 years. He maintains over 50 hours of AMA certified education each year to stay informed of advances in psychiatry.

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