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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Cardiovascular Disease – Can PTSD Cause Heart Problems?

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Post-traumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as PTSD, has been associated with one of the most dangerous killers in America, cardiovascular disease.

Under stress, the human heart rate can rise to 38 beats more per minute.

When the heart rate increases, the chest tightens, the breath shortens, and in some cases, people can find themselves on the floor from losing consciousness.

Mental health disorders can have an extreme effect on the cardiovascular system. So much so that with enough damage over time, the results could be fatal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease.” The chances of a person dying from the disease heighten when PTSD comes into play.

When paired together, can these two be lethal?

Read more to find out.

An In-Depth Look into Cardiovascular Disease

Atherosclerosis is a process that is associated with heart disease. The cycle of atherosclerosis begins when plaque compiles in the arteries. Plaque buildup can decrease blood flow which could lead to blood clots. Lack of exercise, a poor diet, and obesity increase the risk of plaque buildup.

When a blood clot occurs, blood flow ceases, and organ failure soon follows. Keep in mind organs need to eat. Blood is the food; when the food supply is cut off, the organs are starved.

When blood no longer streams to the cardiovascular system, heart valve issues, a heart attack, congestive heart failure, or a stroke can be the outcome.

The question is, though, how can a mental condition such as PTSD contribute to plaque buildup?

The Connection Between PTSD and Cardiovascular Disease

Experts say that there is still much to be studied on the link between post-traumatic stress disorder and cardiovascular disease.

“Is the increase in calcium due to high blood pressure, high glucose, inflammation, insulin resistance?” asked Professor Robert Eckel, MD, at the University of Colorado, Denver.

When interviewed, the former American Heart Association President also stated that there are too many factors that are NOT being considered when analyzing the subject, such as individuals’ diet, workout routine, and whether they smoke or consume alcohol.

Eckel shared, “I’m not saying PTSD is not real and that it doesn’t have health consequences. But much more study is needed”.

Other Mental Health Disorders Associated with Health Issues

Depression and anxiety have also been factored into multiple physical conditions.

Data show that anxiety can be a determinant in causing temporary spikes in blood pressure. Although the spikes only affect blood pressure temporarily, the consistency of those spikes can lead to the destruction of the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys.

When a person experiences anxiety, the fight-or-flight mode of the body is activated. Cortisol levels climb, which can then heighten the heart rate and blood pressure of a person.

Additional mental illnesses that are associated with physical ailments include:

Populations Who Are At Risk

The most prominent group to be at-risk for experiencing PTSD and heart disease are active-duty military personnel and veterans. Civilians who have survived war or traumatic events such as a car accident also can develop post-traumatic stress disorder and cardiovascular disease.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines PTSD as ” a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” PTSD during World War I and World War II used to be referred to as “shell shock.”

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks of traumatic events
  • Images, smells, or sounds may trigger physical sensations such as sweating

Prevention and Treatment

Since there are still not enough definite conclusions about whether post-traumatic stress disorder causes cardiovascular disease, research, treatment, and prevention are still in progress.

As separate entities, though, there have been strides. Different treatments for PTSD incorporate therapy and medication. Cardiovascular disease can also be treated with medication, rehabilitation, and cardiac surgery.

Although there is still much to be learned about post-traumatic stress disorder inducing cardiovascular disease, experts are laboring hard in hopes of collecting research data and, one day, a remedy.



About the Author: Brooke Kelly is a freelance writer and business journalist with an interest in health and wellness.

July is BIPOC Mental Health Month

In 2008 the United States government designated July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month “to enhance public awareness of mental illness …. among minorities.”

Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author and mental health advocate who wrote works of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature about the harmful effects of racism and the mental health impacts on those affected.

Each July, www.rtor.org and its sponsor Laurel House, Inc. honor the legacy of Bebe Moore Campbell. We believe in using language that puts people first and emphasizes their individuality and unique contributions rather than their health or demographic status. Just as we do not refer to people living with schizophrenia as “schizophrenics,” we avoid terms such as “minority” and “marginalized” when referring to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and BIPOC Mental Health Month.

Please join us in recognizing the unique struggles BIPOC face and bringing awareness to the need for adequate, accessible, culturally relevant mental health treatment, care, and services.

Our recent blog post, 8 Accessible Mental Health Resources for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), contains several links to online resources promoting the emotional wellbeing and access to mental health care for these communities.

www.rtor.org and Laurel House are committed to the advancement of racial equity and social justice and to making mental health services available to all.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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