Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health surveyed nearly 50,000 women participating in the Nurses' Health Study II. Trauma exposure and PTSD symptoms were assessed using the Brief Trauma Questionnaire and a PTSD screen.
While 80% of the women reported experiencing a traumatic event in their lives, more than half of this group (58%) reported no symptoms of PTSD. Participants reporting symptoms of PTSD were split evenly between those reporting four or more symptoms of the disorder and those reporting one to three symptoms.
Women who reported four or more symptoms of PTSD had a 60% higher risk of cardiovascular disease risk after adjusting for age, family history, and childhood factors compared with women with no trauma exposure. The researchers also found that trauma exposure alone increased risk for heart attack and stroke by 45%—an increased risk not seen in women who had been exposed to a trauma but reported one to three PTSD symptoms.
"PTSD is twice as common in women than in men, and women with PTSD are more likely to have severe and persistent symptoms," study author Karestan Koenen, Ph.D., of Columbia University said in a press release. "Likewise, women with cardiovascular disease are more likely to be hospitalized and die from a heart attack compared with men. For all these reasons, it's critical that we understand how PTSD contributes to cardiovascular disease in women."
To read about another potential health risk of PTSD in women, see the Psychiatric News article "PTSD Linked to Increased Risk for Type 2 Diabetes in Women."