Review Suggests PTSD Negatively Impacts Physical Health but More Research Needed
- This literature review suggests that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have negative effects on physical health, but evidence regarding its association with specific physical disorders is lacking.
- Seven studies were found that examined the relationship between PTSD and certain physical disorders. For example, evidence suggests a significant association between PTSD and musculoskeletal disorders, especially participant report of arthritis, in the general population – but not in Veterans.
- There also was an association between PTSD and digestive disorders, particularly ulcers, among non-Veterans. The rest of the associations were either found in single studies or are conflicting, particularly in regard to diabetes, congestive heart failure, and stroke.
- Authors suggest that large, prospective epidemiological trials are needed to examine the relationship between PTSD and physical illness.
There is growing concern that Veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are at increased risk of PTSD, and little is known about its impact on short- or long-term physical health and the use of healthcare services. In this systematic review, investigators searched case reports, comparative studies, meta-analyses, and review articles published between 1981 and 2008. The search yielded only seven studies that examined the relationship between PTSD and specific physical-health diagnoses. These seven studies were all published between 1999 and 2006; four studies focused on the general population and three studies on Veterans (Vietnam and WWII).
- Methodology varied across the different studies; e.g., some did not have a comparison group, while others did not control for confounding factors such as demographics or comorbid disorders.
- The total number of subjects with PTSD and specific physical disorders was low in some studies, but researchers did find significant associations.
Drs. Qureshi and Kunik are part of HSR&D’s Houston Center for Quality of Care and Utilization Studies.
Qureshi S, Pyne J, Magruder K, Schulz P, and Kunik, M. The Link between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Physical Cormorbidities: A Systematic Review. Psychiatric Quarterly June 2009;80(2):87-97.