News Release 

PTSD linked to increased heart disease risk among female veterans

American Heart Association scientific sessions, poster presentation MDP211

American Heart Association

DALLAS, Nov. 11, 2019 -- Female veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have more heart disease risk factors, including obesity, at younger ages than female veterans without PTSD, according to preliminary research to be presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2019 -- November 16-18 in Philadelphia. The Association's Scientific Sessions is an annual premier global exchange of the latest advances in cardiovascular science for researchers and clinicians.

PTSD has previously been linked to heart disease, however, most of that research was conducted on male veterans.

"Since PTSD and heart disease can present differently in men and women, we wanted to assess the prevalence of heart disease risk factors in female veterans to better understand any correlation of PTSD to heart disease unique to this population," said study author Ramin Ebrahimi, M.D., a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California Los Angeles and a staff cardiologist at the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration. "We looked at the national Veterans Administration electronic database and found that female veterans with PTSD had higher rates of diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, tobacco smoking and obesity compared to women veterans who did not have PTSD."

The study included more than 835,000 female veterans. The average age of those with PTSD was about 47 years, compared to age 52 for those without PTSD.

Researchers also found that, when compared to female veterans without PTSD, those female veterans with PTSD were:

  • 60% more likely to have high cholesterol;

  • 52% more likely to have high blood pressure;

  • 81% more likely to have Type 2 diabetes;

  • 104% more likely to use tobacco; and

  • 85% more likely to be obese.

"Having higher rates of heart disease risk factors could put female veterans with PTSD at increased risk for developing heart disease. Healthcare providers may need to watch these women more closely at a younger age and treat them more aggressively than those without PTSD to decrease their risk of heart disease," Ebrahimi said.

What is still not clear is if PTSD by itself increases risk of heart disease or if risk of heart disease is higher in patients with PTSD because they have more risk factors.

"Our study will continue and hopefully will answer this question, too," he noted.

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Co-authors are Jennifer Sumner, Ph.D.; Kristine Lynch, Ph.D.; Benjamin Viernes, M.P.H.; Gregorio Coronado; Aria Naeim; Chi-Hong Tseng, Ph.D.; Paul Dennis, Ph.D.; and Jean Beckham, Ph.D. Author disclosures are in the abstract.

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The American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions is a premier global exchange of the latest advances in cardiovascular science for researchers and clinicians. Scientific Sessions 2019 is November 16-18 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. More than 12,000 leading physicians, scientists, cardiologists and allied health care professionals from around the world convene at the Scientific Sessions to participate in basic, clinical and population science presentations, discussions and curricula that can shape the future of cardiovascular science and medicine, including prevention and quality improvement. During the three-day meeting, attendees receive exclusive access to over 4,100 original research presentations and can earn Continuing Medical Education (CME), Continuing Education (CE) or Maintenance of Certification (MOC) credits for educational sessions. Engage in the Scientific Sessions conversation on social media via #AHA19.

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