-- Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, April 4 (HealthDay News) -- Large amounts of lifetime
exposure to traumatic stress -- even when it doesn't result in
post-traumatic stress disorder -- boosts inflammation levels in
heart disease patients, a new study suggests.
The findings are important because it's known that heart disease
patients with higher levels of inflammation tend to fare worse,
according to the researchers at the University of California, San
Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center.
They looked at the exposures to 18 types of traumatic events
experienced by nearly 1,000 patients aged 45 to 90 with
cardiovascular disease. All the traumatic events involved either
experiencing or witnessing a direct threat to life or physical
The more traumatic stress patients experienced in a lifetime,
the more likely they were to have elevated levels of inflammatory
markers in their bloodstream. When the surviving patients were
checked again five years later, those who reported the highest
levels of traumatic stress at the start of the study still had the
highest levels of inflammation.
The study was recently published online in the journal
Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
"Even though we lost some study participants because they died, we still observed the same relationship in those who remained," lead author Aoife O'Donovan, a fellow in psychiatry at UCSF and the VA Medical Center, said in a university news release. "This suggests that it wasn't just the people who were the most sick at the outset who were driving this effect."
The researchers also found that the association between large
amounts of traumatic stress in a lifetime and elevated levels of
inflammation remained even after they adjusted for mental health
disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety
"Not everyone who is exposed to trauma develops PTSD," senior investigator Dr. Beth Cohen, a VA physician and an assistant professor of medicine at UCSF, said in the news release.
"This study emphasizes that traumatic stress can have a long-term negative impact on your health even if you don't go on to develop PTSD. It also tells us that, as clinicians, we need to think about not just which diagnostic box someone might fit into, but what their lifetime trauma exposure has been," she explained.
While the study found an association between trauma and higher
inflammatory markers, it did not prove that trauma directly worsens
inflammation or heart disease.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about
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