In spite of the fact that PTSD is often regarded as having only psychological consequences, it seems that PTSD has a long term physical effect on women.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) represents the aftermath of a traumatic experience undergone by a person. It often manifests with psychological symptoms such as extreme nightmares, significant irritability and an alternation of episodes of anxiety and emotional numbness.
Also, PTSD can lead to modified behavior that comes up because the person is trying to avoid reminders and triggers that he or she associates with the traumatic event.
And while these manifestations are not directly associated with long term effects on a person’s health, they have the capacity to generate risky behavior in the patient that is strongly associated with significant health risks.
While the gravest of these types of behavior might include episodes of nymphomania and taking up activities that can cause an adrenaline rush, there are more subtle habits generated by the PTSD, such as smoking, mild to advanced alcoholism and even obesity, that are usually not associated with the disorder.
In order to cope with the symptoms of the PTSD, people take up these habits that come with long term consequences for their bodies. Smokers often say that cigarettes make them feel calmer and more relaxed. As for the obesity, this is linked with the sedentary life style that a person dealing with emotional trauma develops and even with eating disorders that could come up as a means of calming down.
A team of scientists from the Mailman School of Public Health from Columbia University have used an extensive study conducted on nurses in order to study the effects of PTSD on women. This was an innovative approach, as PTSD is most frequently associated with male patients and specifically to members of the military who get traumatized in the period when they see action.
But PTSD is also caused by traumatic events that have nothing to do with military combat and war zones. Situations like rape, natural disasters or violent events result in PTSD as well, and they affect both women and men alike. Furthermore, there is data that suggests that women are actually more prone to develop PTSD after undergoing trauma than men.
This recent study included 50,000 female subjects who were involved in the Nurses’ Health Study II project that was initiated in 1989. It seems that as many as 35,000 of them had undergone traumatic experiences, and 10,000 of these developed PTSD as a consequence. Also, throughout the entire duration of the project 548 women have suffered heart attacks or strokes.
The study concluded that the women who were diagnosed with severe PTSD displayed a 60% higher chance of developing cardiovascular disorders than the women who did not experience traumatic events. Also, the women who were diagnosed with mild forms of PTSD showed a 45% increased chance of developing cardiovascular disease.
“Psychological treatment for PTSD also needs to consider the long-term health consequences of the disorder. Ultimately, integration of mental and physical health care is key,” concluded epidemiologist Jennifer Sumner, the leader of the study.
The researchers have clearly pointed out that the link between PTSD and cardiovascular disease is not in fact a cause and effect one, but rather an indirect one. This is due to the fact that the long term effects are directly caused by the modified behavior that the patients adopt and the unhealthy habits they pick up in order to cope with the psychological symptoms.
For the well being of the patient, it is crucial that the doctor considers all the causes of the illnesses that the patient displays, even if these extend further that his specialty. An inter-disciplinary approach on such cases often proves to be the one that succeeds in mending the patient’s suffering, because it has capacity of going to the root of the problem and does not only concentrate on fixing the effects.
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