Posttraumatic stress disorder linked with high blood pressure.

Research shows that people suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have an above normal prevalence of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and dyslipidemia (such as cholesterol) and other cardiovascular risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome. Sufferers therefore may have a shorter life expectancy. Researchers have pointed to several possible explanations of such an association.

A considerable body of research has analyzed the link between metabolic syndrome ((aka insulin resistance syndrome) and mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Some have included PTSD in this analysis. Despite important differences in clinical features, they conclude that PTSD “might share health risk behaviors with other mental illness.”

Other researchers have pointed out that metabolic risk behaviors such as poor physical activity, unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol intake, and smoking are highly frequent among people suffering from mental disorders, including PTSD. This they say is the reason for an increased prevalence of metabolic syndrome in PTSD sufferers.

However, there is a lack of studies that systematically analyze the direct association between metabolic syndrome and PTSD. A group of Italian scientists decided to analyze this association by conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis of PubMed, Embase, and Web of Science. They included observational studies assessing the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in a sample with PTSD and in a comparison group without PTSD.

Despite some limitations, they found that compared with 846 people without PTSD, 528 individuals suffering from the condition had a greater risk of metabolic syndrome. The studies included both men and women aged between 43.7–61 years on average. Four studies were of war veterans, one was of police officers, and one was of subjects recruited from the waiting rooms of primary care clinics at a busy inner city hospital. Four papers were from the United States and two were from Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Their study, Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, found that “people with PTSD were 36 percent more likely (than 28 percent of the general population) to have high blood pressure, dyslipidemia, diabetes, and obesity.”

In an extensive review of the study, Dawn C. Schwenke PhD, MS and David Siegel, MD, MPH of Phoenix, Arizona, draw attention to more than “some limitations.” In their review, published in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, they post several questions that still need to be answered, such as: does insomnia — one of the most commonly reported symptoms of PTSD, play a causative role in PTSD; what about relationship between PTSD and of other factors associated with metabolic syndrome, such as lower socioeconomic class and poor dietary quality; and is the association of PTSD and metabolic syndrome independent of medical treatments and meds that PTSD patients may receive as well as their use of substances such as alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and cocaine?

Both the study authors and reviewers agree that these questions warrant further research. According to the study authors, future research should also “assess the impact of screening, prevention, and treatment measures on individuals suffering from PTSD in terms of improvement of health status and life expectancy.”


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