How PTSD Might Affect Physical Health

Post-traumatic stress disorder and premature aging may be linked

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder, but it may also have an effect on physical health.

A new study found that PTSD patients may be at high risk for premature aging and for medical conditions tied to old age.

PTSD is a mental disorder often triggered by a life-threatening or disturbing experience. It often results in mental health problems like chronic depression, insomnia, eating disorders and substance abuse.

Treatment for PTSD may need to include anti-aging therapies — such as anti-inflammatory drugs — and not just mental health treatment, said the authors of this study, led by Dilip V. Jeste, MD, of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

"This is the first study of its type to link PTSD, a psychological disorder with no established genetic basis, which is caused by external, traumatic stress, with long-term, systemic effects on a basic biological process such as aging," Dr. Jeste said in a press release.

These researchers reviewed 64 studies on PTSD and aging between January 2000 and November 2014. They looked at biological signs of aging, chronic conditions tied to older age and premature mortality.

Most of these studies suggested that PTSD patients may be at higher risk for conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal ulcers and dementia. Biological indicators used to measure cell aging also showed signs of early aging in PTSD patients, Dr. Jeste and team found.

Seven out of 10 studies that looked at PTSD and mortality found a possible link between the disorder and earlier death. PTSD patients had a 29 percent higher risk of death than those without the disorder.

PTSD may be linked to declining health and neurocognitive capacity, regardless of aging, Dr. Jeste and team said.

"Post-traumatic stress disorder has major public health significance," Dr. Jeste and team wrote. "Evidence that PTSD may be associated with [early aging] would have major implications for quality of life and healthcare policy."

Dr. Jeste and team added, "Our findings warrant a deeper look at this phenomenon and a more integrated medical-psychiatric approach to their care."

This study was published May 7 in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

The Veterans Affairs San Diego Center for Excellence of Stress and Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, US Department of Defense, UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging and Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging funded this research. Dr. Jeste and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
May 8, 2015
Last Updated:
May 13, 2015