Women With PTSD Face Elevated Risk for Diabetes

Women with advanced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are almost twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as women with no history of the disorder, say researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. They reached this conclusion following an in-depth analysis of data obtained from the Nurses’ Health Study II, an exhaustive 1989-2011, Harvard-sponsored epidemiological research project that queried almost 50,000 professional women about their health histories and lifestyles.

In their evaluations, the Columbia University scientists graded the nurses on a PTSD continuum. Those who registered positive for the disorder were included in one of three groups: those with one to three symptoms of PTSD; those with four or five; and those with six or seven, the maximum amount detectable given the information they were provided. Checks were then made to see how many of these women had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in a clinical setting.

When the numbers were crunched, a dose-response relationship between PTSD symptoms and type 2 diabetes emerged. In other words, there was a direct correlation between the number of symptoms recorded and the likelihood that this dangerous metabolic disorder would eventually be diagnosed. Putting it into percentages, women with one to three symptoms of PTSD were 40 percent more likely to have type 2 diabetes than women with no symptoms; women with four or five symptoms were 50 percent more likely; and women with six or seven symptoms were 80 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives.

About 4 percent of the nurses surveyed displayed the maximum number of measurable PTSD symptoms. Among this group, nearly 12 percent had developed type 2 diabetes by the time they reached age 60. The incidence of diabetes for women without PTSD was less than 7 percent at this stage of life, which means that overall, severe PTSD increases the risk for type 2 diabetes by approximately 80 percent.

The researchers cross-referenced their results against a raft of behaviors that could potentially impact health. In doing so, they discovered two causal factors that seemed to explain about half of the increased risk for diabetes. First there was antidepressant use, which was confirmed in 34 percent of the recorded cases of PTSD victims with type 2 diabetes. The second associative factor was body mass index (BMI)—high BMIs among nurses with PTSD translated into greater incidence of diabetes.

On the other hand, no predictive relationship could be established between diabetes and smoking, alcohol use, diet quality or levels of physical activity in the nurses suffering from PTSD. Antidepressants and elevated body mass index have already been connected to diabetes in other studies, but when combined with PSTD symptoms, they appear to pack an even greater oomph than would normally be the case.

PTSD and Women’s Physical Health

Over the course of their lifetimes, approximately one out of every nine women will manifest the symptoms of PTSD. This means that 17 million currently-living American women will develop this condition at some point in their lives, so any extra medical risk that accompanies PTSD is clearly a serious concern for healthcare professionals. In addition to diabetes, other studies have linked PTSD with increased incidence of cardiovascular disease and obesity, and future studies will undoubtedly prove this disorder plays a causal role in the onset of several other health-threatening conditions as well.

“Our mental health affects our physical health,” stated the Columbia University study’s lead author, Dr. Karestan C. Koenen. “Disorders like PTSD that often begin in a woman’s teens or 20s have negative physical consequences for their whole lives.” PTSD is twice as common in women as it is in men, which makes it a primary hidden factor in many illnesses that otherwise may have seemed to come from nowhere. PTSD is a ticking time bomb, and, if left untreated for too long, the collateral damage it inflicts when it explodes can be immense.

And explosions are common. Unfortunately, studies show less than half of all PTSD victims will seek treatment for their illness, which too often goes unrecognized and unacknowledged. The emotional suffering PTSD causes can be devastating if the disorder is not addressed, and we now know it can compromise physical health just as readily as it damages mental health.

Women experiencing the symptoms of PTSD need counseling and intervention. But they also need to schedule regular appointments with their physicians. This is to make sure they are being monitored for the various debilitating health conditions that can beset those who struggle with this life-altering condition.

Posted on June 11th, 2015
Posted in PTSD

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