Understanding the Link Between PTSD and Hypertension

There have been multiple studies in recent years that have found a connection between Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. A more recent report, however, contends that only certain PTSD symptoms can influence hypertension risk.

Fear of Bad Health

Published in the journal Psychological Medicine, this study based its conclusions on data collected by the Nurses’ Health Study II, a long-running project that began in 1989. For their report, the study authors directed their attention to roughly 2,700 female trauma victims. At the time of their exposure to trauma, none of these women were suffering from either high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. 

So what did this study reveal? In an interview with the website PsyPost, study author Jennifer A. Sumner stated that “in women who had been exposed to a wide range of traumatic events (e.g., sudden and unexpected death of a loved one, unwanted sexual contact, physical assault, miscarriage or stillbirth), we found that elevated fear-related symptoms of PTSD (and not dysphoria-related symptoms of PTSD) were associated with an increased risk of developing high blood pressure.”

Sumner provided some examples of fear-related PTSD symptoms: 

  • Reports of Intrusive Thoughts 
  • Active avoidance of trauma reminders
  • Hypervigilance
  • exaggerated startle

Sumner, an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, noted that such fear-related PTSD symptoms could be responsible for elevated cardiovascular risk among those impacted by PTSD. 

The authors do acknowledge that their work has its limitations; for example, the participants in the Nurses Health Study II are of a relatively narrow demographic background. They contend that future work on this topic should focus on whether medical interventions could alleviate fear-related PTSD symptoms. In turn, this may allow affected individuals to maintain healthy blood pressure levels.

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