The Link Between Psychiatric Conditions and Cardiac Conditions
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The Relationship Between Mind and Heart
Psychiatric conditions like PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc. alter the body’s nervous system and can negatively affect the heart. Also, psychiatric conditions can cause a person to make poor lifestyle choices such as poor diet, lack of exercise, or substance abuse. These poor lifestyle choices can also have a big impact on the heart. Why is it so important to understand the relationship between the mind and the heart? Both heart disease and psychiatric conditions are two of the most common disabilities suffered by veterans of multiple eras. For example, 175,220 Vietnam veterans have service connected coronary heart disease and over 350,000 Vietnam veterans have PTSD. And those numbers are just the veterans that have their conditions service connected.
Psychiatric conditions can not only make an existing heart condition worse, they can actually increase the risk of developing a heart condition. According to the American Psychological Association, people diagnosed with depression are more than twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease or suffer from a heart attack. On the reverse side, people with heart conditions are three times as likely to be depressed. This isn’t entirely surprising when you look at the impact heart conditions can have on someone’s life. For example, someone who suffers a heart attack can then have feelings of guilt about any habits they had that might have lead up to the heart attack. That person might also have feelings of self-doubt due because they worry about their ability to fulfill family/and or work related roles.
And the Medical Evidence Shows…
Dr. Viola Vaccarino, chair of the department of epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta stated, “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.” Dr. Vaccarino led a study of Vietnam veterans diagnosed with PTSD, nuclear imagining scans of the veterans’ hearts showed that the veterans with PTSD had almost twice as much reduction in blood flow to their hearts as those veterans without PTSD. This was true even after taking into considerations the traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as age, past heart disease, obesity, alcohol use, etc.
Dr. Vaccarino’s findings are supported by other medical studies and research that drew similar conclusions. A study published by the American Journal of Public Health in April of 2015 found that of 8,000 veterans participating, those with PTSD had a nearly 50% greater risk of developing heart failure compared with veterans that did not have PTSD. Also, veterans with PTSD that also had combat service were about 5 times more likely to develop heart failure than those veterans who had not seen combat. This study, along with other research, confirms what many experts believe; that PTSD, like other forms of chronic stress and anxiety, can cause damage to the heart over time.
In fact, Dr. Paula Schnurr with the VA’s National Center for PTSD even stated, “There’s now a large body of evidence that unequivocally links trauma exposure to poor physical health.”
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