Vets with PTSD Suffer more Cardiovascular Events, Deaths

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2010 shows vets with PTSD suffer more cardiovascular events and double the risk of dying from all causes, compared to those without the disorder. The findings highlight the importance of aggressive management of PTSD, now recognized as a significant risk factor for heart disease from accelerated atherosclerosis.

Symptoms of PTSD include impaired concentration, social numbing, emotional arousal and frequent memories of traumatic events or “flashbacks”. The researchers examined records from VA patients and then performed a sub-study to compare calcium deposits in coronary arteries between vets with PTSD and non-PTSD veterans.

PTSD in Veterans Leads to Accelerated Atherosclerosis

According to Ramin Ebrahimi, M.D., co-principal investigator, “This study for the first time appears to point to the mechanism for the cardiovascular part of that excess mortality risk: accelerated atherosclerosis. Our trial is the first to make a direct association between PTSD and atherosclerotic coronary disease as measured by coronary artery calcification (CAC), a standard test that is commonly used in studies such as ours because it can be measured non-invasively.”


The sub-study included 637 veterans scanned for coronary calcium; revealing 76.1 percent of veterans with PTSD had some calcification, compared to 59 percent of non-PTSD veterans. For veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder the score was 448, versus 332 for veterans without the disorder.

Of the 30,450 veterans in the study, 10.6 percent had PTSD, but 28.9 percent of those who died had the disorder. Over the ten-year follow-up period, PTSD was associated with a 2.41 chance of dying from any cause.

When the researchers sorted the veterans according to calcium buildup there was a 41 percent greater risk of death from heart disease and 48 higher chance of death from any cause. Past studies have shown PTSD sufferers also experience a significant number of medical probems.

Naser Ahmadi, M.D., M.S, another co-principal study investigator said, “PTSD is a very debilitating disorder. It makes the patient feel hopeless. These patients constantly struggle with many different (psychological) problems.” He says the study points to PTSD as a cardiovascular risk factor in addition to predicting death. The focus for physicians is to identify the health risks associated with the post traumatic stress disorder and aggressively manage, versus treating the symptoms alone, as is the current standard of care.