PTSD May Produce Sexual Health Issues

Veterans should be screened for erectile and sexual dysfunction when returning from deployment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Veterans returning from combat can find it hard to adjust to their old lives. Many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced traumatic events, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

Previous studies have shown that PTSD and depressive symptoms are risk factors for developing sexual and erectile dysfunction

A recent study found that some Iraq/Afghanistan veterans did experience sexual or erectile dysfunction. Study authors suggested that the veterans' initial post-deployment health evaluation should include questions about their sexual health.

Sexual health can be an important part of overall mental health. Treating problems with sexual functioning would play an important part in improving the health and quality of life of our returning veterans. 

"Veterans should discuss any health concerns with a doctor."

G. M. Monawar Hosain, MD, of Houston Veterans Affairs HSR&D Center of Excellence, and colleagues led the study to examine sexual and erectile problems in Iraq/Afghanistan veterans. 

Researchers collected information on 4,755 veterans, ages 19 to 64, from the Veterans Administration database. These veterans sought treatment at one Veterans Affairs medical center between September 2007 and August 2009. 

The study looked at basic information about the veterans, such as age and race. Most (84 percent) of the veterans were under the age of 40. Almost half (46 percent) were white. 

Researchers also looked at the veterans' medical diagnoses. PTSD was diagnosed in 33 percent of veterans in the study. Depression was diagnosed in 26 percent.

Veterans under 40 were more likely to have PTSD and substance abuse problems, compared to older veterans. Veterans over 40 were more likely to have hypertension than younger veterans. 

The researchers also looked at sexual dysfunction diagnoses among the veterans. A total of 10 types of sexual dysfunction diagnoses were used in the analysis. If the veteran had been prescribed medication typically used to treat a sexual dysfunction problem, researchers still counted it as a diagnosis, even though there was not a formal diagnosis. 

Sexual dysfunction was diagnosed in 3.6 percent of younger veterans and 15.8 percent of older veterans. Overall, veterans that were diagnosed with PTSD, depression, hypertension or diabetes were more likely to have a sexual dysfunction diagnosis than those without those diagnoses. 

Study authors noted that while 109 veterans were prescribed medication typically used to treat sexual and erectile dysfunction, there was no official diagnosis given to support treatment. Likewise, some veterans had a diagnosis of sexual or erectile dysfunction, but were not treated for it. 

Researchers suggested that all veterans should be briefly screened for any sexual or erectile dysfunction as part of the initial post-deployment health assessment. 

"This could result in more accurate documentation of this health issue, a more holistic assessment of its impact on psychosocial issues (such as intimate partner relationships), and more important, treatment and referral for indicated services, such as counseling, which in turn could increase the health and quality of life of our Iraq/Afghanistan veterans," authors commented in the study. 

The study had some limitations. The veteran population was from one Veterans Affairs medical center. As such, the study's results may not be applicable to all veterans. Also, the database used had limited information regarding the severity of dysfunction or conditions diagnosed from other providers.

This study, titled "Sexual Dysfunction among Male Veterans Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan: Prevalence and Correlates," was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. It was funded by Houston VA HSR&D Center of Excellence. Dr. G.M. Monawar Hosain and colleagues disclosed no conflict of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 30, 2013
Last Updated:
February 5, 2013