Doctors should provide prompt and aggressive evaluation and treatment for PTSD, which is not just a psychological disorder, principal researchers, Naser Ahmadi, M.D., M.S., and Ramin Ebrahimi, M.D. said. It is a collections of symptoms which may include concentration problems, disturbed sleep, hyperarousal, avoidance of some situations and emotional numbing.
Ahmadi, a research scientist at the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center, said:
"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 researchers found that those with PTSD had a 2.41 higher risk of death from all causes compared to other veterans. This was after a 10-year follow-up and after taking into account such factors as age, sex, and common cardiovascular risk factors. The investigators concluded that PTSD is an independent predictor of death from all causes.
30,460 (10.6%) of all the veterans had PTSD, while 28.9% of those who died had PTSD, Ahmadi said.
A sub-study found that among 637 veterans, 76.1% of those with PTSD showed some coronary artery calcium, compared to 59% among others. Veterans had an average coronary artery calcium score of 448, compared to 332 for the others.
They found that levels of calcium accumulation correlated with all cause mortality risk. Veterans with PTSD had a 48% higher death risk from any cause and a 41% higher risk of death due to cardiovascular disease than other veterans, the researchers revealed.
"The current PTSD treatment protocol is to provide relief of symptoms alone. PTSD is a very debilitating disorder. It makes the patient feel hopeless. These patients constantly struggle with many different (psychological) problems.
We also believe we have found a mechanism by which PTSD could increase the risk of cardiovascular events via atherosclerosis. If we focus on early detection and management of cardiovascular risk factors in veterans with PTSD, we might be able to delay the onset of cardiovascular disease.