How PTSD Relates to Physical Health Issues

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People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience a number of psychological difficulties such as depression, other anxiety disorders, and substance use-related problems. In addition to these psychological issues, individuals with PTSD may also be more likely to experience physical health problems.

Studies have found that compared to those without PTSD, people with PTSD are more likely to experience health problems including:

  • Arthritis
  • Heart-related problems and disease
  • Respiratory system-related problems and disease
  • Digestive problems and disease
  • Reproductive system-related problems
  • Diabetes
  • Pain

Given the number of physical health problems found to be associated with PTSD, it is not surprising that people with PTSD have been found to use and seek health care more than people without PTSD.

How PTSD and Physical Health Are Related

There is something unique to having PTSD (as opposed to simply being exposed to a traumatic event) that puts people at risk for developing physical health problems. A number of theories have been proposed to explain this connection. It has been suggested that a variety of factors interact to increase the risk for physical health problems among people with PTSD.

People with PTSD may engage in more risky and health-compromising behaviors, such as alcohol and drug use. The hyperarousal symptoms of PTSD may also put someone in a constant state of stress and anxiety. Factors like these combine to put tremendous strain and stress on a person's body, increasing the risk for physical health problems and illness.

Improve Your Health If You Have PTSD

If you have PTSD it is important to seek out treatment. The Anxiety Disorder Association of America provides a list of therapists across the United States who specialize in the treatment of PTSD. By speaking with a mental health professional, you are already making progress in coping with your PTSD. By reducing the psychological difficulties associated with PTSD, you may also reduce your risk of physical health problems.

PTSD Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide to help you ask the right questions at your next doctor's appointment.

Mind Doc Guide

As part of your treatment for PTSD, it may also be important to start focusing on living a healthier lifestyle. A healthy diet, exercise, and eliminating bad habits (for example, stopping smoking) may not only improve your health but also your mood. Behavioral activation is one technique that provides an easy way to increase the level of activity in your life, help you meet your goals, and can reduce PTSD symptoms.

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