New research from Harvard School of Public Health suggests that women who suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may have an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese. This is according to a study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by stressful or frightening events. The disorder can occur immediately after the event, or it can take weeks, months or even years to develop.
Symptoms of PTSD can include nightmares and flashbacks, insomnia, lack of concentration, and feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.
The investigators note that previous research has identified PTSD itself has a potential risk factor for excessive weight gain, but whether symptoms of PTSD can contribute to obesity had not been established.
A new study suggests that women who suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may be at increased risk of becoming overweight or obese.
To investigate this link, the researchers analyzed 54,224 participants who are a part of The Nurses' Health Study II. All participants were aged between 24- and 44-years-old when the study was initiated in 1989, and they were followed-up until 2005.
The participants were measured for symptoms of PTSD using a PTSD screening questionnaire.
The women were asked to report the age at which the worst event of their life occurred and whether they had experienced PTSD symptoms in relation to that event.
The majority of the women disclosed height and weight information at the baseline of the study, and women who reported PTSD symptoms at the baseline of the study had their body mass index (BMI) monitored throughout the study period.
PTSD symptoms 'lead to increased BMI'
Results of the study revealed that women who reported at least four symptoms of PTSD before the beginning of the study showed a significant increase in BMI.
Women who developed symptoms of PTSD at or after the baseline of the study did not show a fast rise in BMI until they demonstrated the onset of at least four or more PTSD symptoms.
Furthermore, the onset of at least four symptoms of PTSD at the baseline of the study or later was linked to increased risk of becoming overweight or obese, even if the women had a normal BMI at the beginning of the study.
Explaining their findings, the researchers say:
"Although PTSD is a significant concern for its effects on mental health, our findings also suggest that the presence of PTSD symptoms should raise clinician concerns about the potential development of physical health problems."
Findings 'should prompt monitoring of trauma patients'
They note that from these results, primary care settings should screen those who are at high risk for trauma exposure for PTSD, and these patients should continue to be monitored:
"Physicians may be more effective if they can recognize and manage this type of emotional distress. Our work may also suggest that women with PTSD should be monitored or undergo screening for development of adverse cardiometabolic outcomes."
"In fact," they continue, "our work highlights the importance of expanding PTSD treatments to attend to behavioral alterations - such as changes in diet or exercise - that lead to obesity."
Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that obesity may be caused by a hunger gene.