Researcher suspects mental health issues may lead to unhealthy habits
TUESDAY, Aug. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts who have mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are also at higher risk for having cardiovascular disease risk factors, a new study suggests.
While previous studies have found that those with PTSD, a common mental health problem among veterans who have seen combat, are at increased risk of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease, risk factors for heart attack and stroke have not been evaluated in this group, said Dr. Beth E. Cohen, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco and staff physician at the San Francisco VA Medical Center.
Cohen led the study, published in the Aug. 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"Our main finding was that vets with mental health issues -- both PTSD and others -- had a significantly increased risk of being diagnosed with a variety of heart disease risk factors," Cohen said.
Cohen and her colleagues looked at national data from veterans who sought care at VA facilities, comparing more than 267,000 male vets with and without mental health diagnoses and nearly 36,000 female vets with and without mental health issues.
In PTSD, the sufferer "relives" the trauma via flashbacks or in other ways, such as becoming hyper-vigilant to everyday sounds. Other mental health issues seen among vets include depression, anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder and alcohol and substance abuse.
Cohen's team looked at doctors' codes in the records for cardiovascular risk factors, including tobacco use, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, obesity or diabetes.
"Because their average age is 30, they are typically too young to have already developed heart disease," Cohen said. "So, we looked at risk fac
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