Trauma Exposure and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms Predict Onset of Cardiovascular Events in Women
Background—Psychological stress is a proposed risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the sentinel stress-related mental disorder, occurs twice as frequently in women as men. However, whether PTSD contributes to CVD risk in women is not established.
Methods and Results—We examined trauma exposure and PTSD symptoms in relation to incident CVD over a 20-year period in 49,978 women in the Nurses' Health Study II. Proportional hazards models estimated hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for CVD events confirmed by additional information or medical record review [n=548, including myocardial infarction (n=277) and stroke (n=271)]. Trauma exposure and PTSD symptoms were assessed using the Brief Trauma Questionnaire and a PTSD screen. Compared to no trauma exposure, endorsing 4 or more PTSD symptoms was associated with increased CVD risk after adjusting for age, family history, and childhood factors (HR=1.60 [95% CI, 1.20-2.13]). Being trauma-exposed and endorsing no PTSD symptoms was associated with elevated CVD risk (HR=1.45 [95% CI, 1.15-1.83]), although being trauma-exposed and endorsing 1-3 PTSD symptoms was not. After adjusting for adult health behaviors and medical risk factors, this pattern of findings was maintained. Health behaviors and medical risk factors accounted for 14% of the trauma/no symptoms-CVD association and 47% of the trauma/4+ symptoms-CVD association.
Conclusions—Trauma exposure and elevated PTSD symptoms may increase risk of CVD in this population of women. These findings suggest screening for CVD risk and reducing health risk behaviors in trauma-exposed women may be promising avenues for prevention and intervention.
- Received November 23, 2014.
- Revision received April 22, 2015.
- Accepted May 8, 2015.