Trauma Tough on Women’s Hearts

Post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma may increase heart disease risk in women

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

(RxWiki News) Traumatic events — such as assault and natural disasters — may exact more than just an emotional toll on many women.

A new study found that women who experienced traumatic events may have a much higher risk for heart disease, compared with women without a traumatic history.

“PTSD is generally considered a psychological problem, but the take-home message from our findings is that it also has a profound impact on physical health, especially cardiovascular risk,” said lead study author Jennifer A. Sumner, PhD, of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, in a press release. “This is not exclusively a mental problem — it’s a potentially deadly problem of the body as well.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Patients with PTSD often experience flashbacks, insomnia, fatigue and irritability. They may also have trouble concentrating and remembering things.

According to Dr. Sumner and team, women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD after a traumatic experience.

Dr. Sumner and team used data from the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II, which began in 1989 and includes data on more than 116,000 female nurses).

Dr. Sumner and team looked at 54,282 of these women and used a survey to collect data on various types of traumatic events. This data included physical and sexual assault, child abuse and other traumatic experiences.

Also, these researchers looked at heart disease risk factors like smoking, obesity and high blood pressure.

PTSD may increase the risk of heart disease in women under the age of 65 — those with four or more symptoms of PTSD being 60 percent more likely to develop heart disease than women who had not experienced a traumatic event, Dr. Sumner and team found.

Women who did not have PTSD but still reported trauma had a 45 percent greater risk of heart disease — compared with women who did not experience trauma.

“Our results provide further evidence that PTSD increases the risk of chronic disease," said study author Karestan C. Koenen, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University and Harvard University's T. H. Chan School of Public Health, in a press release. "The medical system needs to stop treating the mind and the body as if they are separate. Patients need access to integrated mental and physical healthcare.”

This study was published June 29 in the journal Circulation.

The National Institutes of Health funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
June 28, 2015
Last Updated:
July 7, 2015