Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder have more medical problems that bring them to the doctor's office than their peers without PTSD, according to a new study.
"Increased understanding of the link between psychological trauma and health services use is important because the identification of exposure to traumatic events and assessment of PTSD symptoms may assist diagnosis, treatment and allocation of health resources," says the study's lead author Eva Y. Deykin, Ph.D., of the National Center for PTSD and Boston University School of Medicine.
The study results, published in the September issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, show that patients who made a lot of health visits were more than twice as likely to have PTSD than those who made only a few visits to the clinic, says Deykin.
Patients with PTSD also made at least 30 percent more health visits than those with few or no symptoms of PTSD.
Working at the primary clinics of the VA Boston Healthcare System, the researchers recruited and interviewed 102 patients who were high users of medical services, making 28 to 104 visits to the clinics within a period of 18 months, and 54 patients who were low users, making only 1 to 4 visits. The patients were screened for medical conditions, PTSD, and depression.
The researchers' analyses revealed that the association between health utilization and PTSD was largely attributable to the finding that patients with PTSD had twice as many ailments as the patients without PTSD. Taking into consideration findings from previous research, the most likely explanation for this finding is that PTSD is a risk factor for physical disorders, they say.
"It highlights the fundamental linkage between mental and physical health," says Deykin. "Second, it encourages reconsideration of reasons for use of medical services by emotionally distressed individuals. As demonstrated with the current sample, increased use by these individuals may not be inappropriate or unwarranted as is sometimes assumed."
They also found that the number of health problems rose with the severity of PTSD symptoms. Patients without PTSD had the fewest medical problems, averaging less than four, while patients with partial PTSD had an average of six and those with full-blown PTSD averaged nearly eight.
This further supports the belief that the burden of psychological disorders affect overall physical health and susceptibility to disease, Deykin says.
Psychosomatic Medicine is the official bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the American Psychosomatic Society. For information about the journal, contact Joel E. Dimsdale, MD, at 619-543-5468.