Military Men at Risk: Hypertension Associated with PTSD

Military personnel are at high risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. An estimated 11 to 30 percent of veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD – the exact statistics vary by service era. Exposure to combat, life-threatening missions, and the stress of deployment all contribute to lifelong trauma after a tour of duty. Using a nationally representative sample of over 194,000 veterans, researchers from the VA Connecticut Healthcare System found another unexpected consequence of post-traumatic stress disorder: increased risk of hypertension.

How Trauma Affects the Body

In order to understand the correlation between trauma and high blood pressure, we must first examine the ways in which PTSD changes the body. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a subtype of anxiety. This condition is associated with heightened arousal, avoidant behavior, and the re-experiencing of a traumatic event.

Hyperarousal makes military PTSD sufferers more aware of stimuli. This increased perception is designed to guard against future trauma. They may exhibit a significant startle response when tapped on the shoulder, for example. They also:

  • Find it difficult to concentrate
  • Easily become irritable
  • Struggle to fall asleep or sleep through the night
  • Stay on guard all the time (hypervigilance)
  • Feel extreme, constant muscle tension
  • Breathe more quickly
  • Have a heightened heart rate

This is the key to understanding the link between PTSD and hypertension. When the body experiences trauma, it allocates resources to guard itself against future danger. Part of this is the increased awareness, heart rate, and respiratory rate that may be permanent. When a person’s senses are firing on all cylinders, they’re able to quickly perceive any potential threats. While these changes are intended to be adaptive, a state of constant mental and physical arousal can have real health consequences.

Does PTSD Cause High Blood Pressure?

Each year, cardiovascular disease and stroke cost the United States an estimated $69 billion. Hypertension is considered a primary risk factor for both of these conditions, and researchers have identified a link between trauma and high blood pressure. Multiple studies have illustrated this correlation:

  • In a sample of military veterans, the resting systolic/diastolic blood pressures were 11/9mmHg higher among individuals with PTSD.
  • According to a multivariate analysis conducted as part of the National Comorbidity Study, the prevalence of high blood pressure is twice as high among veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
  • A longitudinal study of veterans seeking primary care found that PTSD increased the likelihood of hypertension by 38 percent.

These cross-sectional studies clearly illustrate a correlation between post-traumatic stress disorder and high blood pressure. Understanding this, the VA Connecticut Healthcare System sought to uncover a causal relationship between these two conditions.

A large-scale analysis using data from almost 200,000 veterans found that an untreated diagnosis of PTSD was associated with a 24 to 46 percent greater risk of incident hypertension. This finding was consistent among male and female participants. This means that all traumatized veterans may be predisposed to severe cardiac events. How can former military personnel avoid a diagnosis of hypertension after developing PTSD?

What You Can Do

There is hope for veterans, and it might not be what you expect. VA researchers discovered that the risk of high blood pressure dropped significantly if participants received treatment for their PTSD. Preemptive trauma treatment can make an incredible difference in the mental and physical health of former servicemen and women.

Combat-related PTSD is associated with a whole host of issues, including depression, anxiety, fractured relationships, and substance use disorder. In order to help veterans overcome these obstacles and improve their well-being, in-depth trauma programming is required. Mindfulness practices, hands-on and experiential therapies, sessions reinforcing the mind-body connection, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) can all mitigate the risk of PTSD-catalyzed hypertension. With expert therapeutic intervention, veterans will be protected from serious cardiac events.

Help for Active Duty Military, Veterans, and Others with PTSD

The Last Resort Recovery specializes in treating members of the Armed Forces. Whether you are a veteran, an active duty soldier, or a relative of someone who serves, we can help you to overcome the trauma associated with service. Our programs follow the trajectory of The Hero’s Journey – while at The Last Resort, men will cultivate freedom, get in touch with their emotions, and begin to heal from deeply ingrained trauma.

If you would like to learn more about our services, we invite you to contact The Last Resort Recovery today.