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The Connection Between PTSD and Physical Health


Updated October 28, 2012

People with PTSD may be at risk for a several other psychological problems, such as depression, other anxiety disorders, and drug and alcohol use problems. PTSD also can have a big impact on your physical health. Let's look at a few.

1. An Overview of PTSD and Physical Health

Study after study has found that people with PTSD are at greater risk for developing a number of physical health problems such as diabetes, arthritis, migraines, and pain. Why is this the case? Well, there are a number of reasons. The symptoms of PTSD can put tremendous physical and emotional strain on a person. In addition, people with PTSD often develop unhealthy behaviors (e.g., alcohol abuse) in an attempt to cope with the symptoms of PTSD, leading to worse physical health. You can learn more about PTSD and physical health in this article.

2. PTSD and Diabetes

PTSD has also been found to be related to autoimmune diseases such as arthritis, and diabetes. The symptoms of PTSD can contribute to the development of a number of unhealthy behaviors, such as poor eating habits and inactivity and obesity, all of which may place a person at risk for developing diabetes. In addition, among people with diabetes, the PTSD-related stress and unhealthy behaviors may negatively impact the course of a person's diabetes.


Medical advances in the treatment and management of HIV/AIDS in the last decade have considerably improved the health and quality of life of individuals living with HIV/AIDS; however, increased attention is now being paid towards the relationship between PTSD and HIV. Specifically, people are now beginning to look at how PTSD can increase risk for HIV/AIDS, as well as how PTSD among people living with HIV/AIDS may negatively affect the course of their illness.

4. PTSD and Obesity

People with PTSD have been found to also have a number of physical health problems. Many of these health problems may be due to the fact that there are high rates of obesity among people with PTSD. You can learn more about the connection between PTSD and obesity in this article, as well as what you can do to build a healthier lifestyle.

5. PTSD and Risk for Heart Disease

Chronic PTSD results in the release of stress hormones which may contribute to inflammation and eventual damage to a person's cardiovascular system. This would increase a person's risk for heart disease and premature death. People with PTSD also appear to be at high risk for obesity and unhealthy behaviors (for example, smoking) which may further increase the possibility of heart disease and premature death. Learn what you can do to reduce your risk for heart disease here.

6. PTSD and the Experience of Pain

Studies have found that pain is one of the most regularly reported physical problem reported by people with PTSD — no matter what type of traumatic event was experienced (motor vehicle accident, physical assault or combat). People with PTSD are also more likely to report disability due to the experience of pain. This article presents information on why pain is a common experience among people with PTSD, as well as what can be done to lessen and cope with pain.

7. Stress, Trauma, and Breast Cancer

Some studies have found a connection between breast cancer and PTSD. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women (when skin cancers are not considered). In 2007, it was estimated that 178,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer would be diagnosed, and approximately 40,460 people would die from breast cancer. Given the frequency with which it occurs, a tremendous amount of research has focused on identifying risk factors for breast cancer. One such risk factor that may increase risk for breast cancer or influence its progression is the experience of stressful and/or traumatic life events. Learn more about the relationship between trauma and breast cancer.

8. PTSD and Cancer

Cancer may be considered a traumatic event, and therefore, it may not be surprising to learn that someone may be able to develop PTSD from cancer. This article gives information on the connection between cancer and PTSD, as well as what factors might increase risk for developing PTSD after being diagnosed with cancer.

9. Specific Health Concerns for Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans

Studies have shown that many Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are experiencing difficulties with PTSD, depression, alcohol use and anger. Another study, though, also found that these veterans may also be at risk for a number of physical health problems. Learn more about the findings of this study here.
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