Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs in some individuals that are exposed to emotionally disturbing events such as combat, rocket, and terrorist attacks. Individuals that have suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) or experienced natural disasters and sexual assault are also at higher risk of having this disorder.
Symptoms may include quality of life issues such as explosive outbursts of anger, difficulties in concentrating, being easily startled, feeling constantly “on guard”, expecting a threat to occur at any moment, depression, problems sleeping, avoiding people and circumstances that can trigger unpleasant memories or outbursts, limiting emotional relationships, and avoiding crowded locations.
Up to twenty percent of veterans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, 10% of Gulf War (Desert Storm), and 30% of Vietnam Veterans have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD is not only a psychiatric issue. Individuals suffering with PTSD are at higher risk of being physically ill, and at increased risk of death from a multiple of causes.
PTSD is Associated with Inflammatory Responses.
Clinical studies suggest that individuals with post-traumatic stress disorders suffer from chronic low-level inflammation. This is reflected in their greater propensity to have inflammation-associated diseases such as autoimmune, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, and respiratory diseases.
A combination of high blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure, coupled with excess fat around the abdomen (abdominal visceral fat), increases the risk of individuals for stroke, heart disease, and diabetes. This cluster of symptoms, metabolic syndrome, is associated with inflammation and is found in 48% of individuals with post traumatic stress syndrome compared to 25% of controls. Such clinical issues result in patients with PTSD utilizing a greater proportion of medical services and prescription medications.
IL-6 is a cytokine, an immune messenger, which plays a major role in inflammation, helping the body heal after tissue injury, and defending the body from pathogens. C-reactive protein (CRP) is another biological marker that is strongly related to heightened levels of inflammation. Elevated levels of IL-6 and CRP are associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular events that are inflammatory in nature.
Reports of increased presence of inflammatory cytokines in individuals with PTSD are inconsistent. However, the evidence suggests in military personnel with PTSD or depression, IL-6 levels are higher than found in control subjects, and that the quality of life of these soldiers is poorer as well. Similarly, individuals with PTSD are more likely to have significantly higher amounts of circulating CRP than those not diagnosed with PTSD.
Intermittent explosive disorder is one of the more troubling aspects of some individuals with post traumatic stress disorder. This condition involves repeated episodes of impulsive, angry, verbal outbursts, and violent and aggressive behavior. CRP and IL-6 levels are significantly higher in personnel with intermittent explosive disorder compared with normal or other psychiatric controls, suggesting a direct relationship between inflammation and aggression.
Fifty percent of individuals with post traumatic stress syndrome do not seek treatment, and of those that do, only half of these persons will get “minimally adequate” treatment. Until now, the primary treatments for PSTD are psychological counseling and psychiatric medications.
Inflammation is the result of a delicate balance between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses, and the body constantly strives to maintain a state of “immune homeostasis”, immune balance.
As in most disease, chronic low-grade inflammation is a likely contributor to post traumatic stress syndrome. If individuals with PTSD better controlled the amount of inflammation produced by their bodies, their quality of life would improve, both emotionally and physically.
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