Vietnam War veterans diagnosed with PTSD had double the risk of developing heart disease as compared to soldiers not diagnosed with the anxiety disorder, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The disorder which can cause veterans long past their wartime experiences to experience war-zone flashbacks, nightmares and haunting thoughts - affects about 5.2 million adults each year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
In order to control for genetic and environmental factors, researchers studied 562 middle-aged sets of twins, all of whom served during the Vietnam era. Radioisotopic imaging scans were used to study blood flow to the heart; impaired blood supply to the heart could lead to heart attacks, while vascular disease in the carotid arteries leads to strokes. The findings showed 23 percent of twins living with PTSD also had heart-related ailments, compared to only nine percent of twins without PTSD.
In addition, researchers studied a set of 234 twins, where one sibling had PTSD and the other did not, and found the same strong correlation, 22 percent of PTSD-diagnosed siblings had incidences of heart disease, compared to 13 percent of those who did not have PTSD.
ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan opined, The mechanism for the emotional dysfunction key to PTSD relating to cardiovascular disease is unclear, but not implausible. In fact, it is well known that people with depression, including bipolar disease, do have an increased risk of heart disease, and treating their mental illness reduces that risk. Of course it is unknown if treating PTSD with anti-anxiety meds will have the same beneficial effect that s a study that should be done.