More focus needed on physical health effects of PTSD, says study

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has long been considered a psychological condition. However, researchers are now saying it should be viewed as a systemic disorder that can also take a damaging toll on bodily health.

A new study has found that adults with PTSD are at a higher risk of suffering a broad range of health conditions such as gastrointestinal problems, sleep disorders and cardiovascular disease, among others. Those with PTSD are four times more likely to have a stroke or a heart attack. They also have a two times greater risk of experiencing stomach ulcers and sleep problems.

The findings, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, urge doctors to reclassify PTSD as a “systemic condition” rather than just a mental health problem. Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation CEO Miriam Dwyer said PTSD is not simply a “wound of the mind.” It affects the whole body.

Researchers studied around 300 Vietnam War veterans between the ages of 60 and 88. Dwyer said they found a broad range of health conditions among the veterans, who reflected “a sense of just poor wellbeing” due to their PTSD.

The researchers urged health care professionals to be aware of the physical conditions linked to PTSD. Taking an integrated approach directed at both the mental and physical health of PTSD patients would help improve treatment for the condition.