Researchers looked at 562 middle-aged male twins (340 identical and 222 fraternal) who were veterans of the Vietnam War, and found that nearly 23 percent of the vets with PTSD had heart disease, compared with about 9 percent of the vets without PTSD.
When the researchers compared the 234 twins where one brother had PTSD and the other did not, 22 percent of those with PTSD had heart disease, compared with nearly 13 percent of those without PTSD.
The link between PTSD and heart disease remained strong even after the researchers accounted for lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking and physical-activity levels, as well as for mental health problems such as depression.
The study was published online June 25 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and appears in the Sept. 10 print issue of the journal. The study was partially funded by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
"This study suggests a link between PTSD and cardiovascular health," lead researcher Dr. Viola Vaccarino, a professor in the department of medicine at Emory University and chairwoman of the department of epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health, said in an institute news release.
"For example, repeated emotional triggers during everyday life in persons with PTSD could affect the heart by causing frequent increases in blood pressure, heart rate and heartbeat rhythm abnormalities that in susceptible individuals could lead to a heart attack," Vaccarino said.
"This study provides further evidence that PTSD may affect physical health," said Dr. Gary Gibbons, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "Future research to clarify the mechanisms underlying the link between PTSD and heart disease in Vietnam veterans and other groups will help to guide the development of effective prevention and treatment strategies for people with these serious conditions."
PTSD affects nearly 7.7 million U.S. adults.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about post-traumatic stress disorder.