The physical health consequences of posttraumatic stress

Maria PacellaThe relation between posttraumatic stress and physical health is a fascinating one. On my ‘talent hunt’ at the ISTSS conference, I met Maria Pacella, who is currently completing her doctoral degree in Health Psychology at Kent State University, Ohio, USA. She examines the relation between traumatic stress and the development of mental and physical health problems in adults. Some fresh new findings below!

The following research describes a recent meta-analysis synthesizing the literature regarding PTSD/PTSD symptoms (PTSS) and comorbid physical health complaints. Related research conducted with samples of motor vehicle accident victims and people living with HIV is also discussed. For more information about our ongoing research studies, please see the Delahanty Stress and Health Lab website.

1. PTSD is associated with poor physical health

The relationship between PTSD and co-occurring mental health conditions — such as depression, substance use, and general anxiety — has received much attention in the literature. However, it is equally important to consider the impact of PTSD on physical health functioning. Given the biological alterations associated with PTSD, individuals with this disorder may be vulnerable to the development of, or worsening of, certain physical health conditions. A better understanding of the physical health consequences of PTSD will inform prevention and treatment practices, thereby reducing the economic burden created by the disorder.

Recently, we conducted a meta-analysis on the results of 62 empirical articles examining the relationship between PTSD and six physical health outcomes. Results revealed that individuals with PTSD suffered from greater health complaints in the following domains: Continue reading