Women who suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, are at higher risk for becoming obese, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. Previous studies had already shown that PTSD is a risk factor for obesity in women but this research was the first to show that the symptoms of PTSD can contribute to obesity.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by stressful or frightening events. War veterans are at increased risk for developing PTSD but this condition can affect anyone who has experienced a terrifying ordeal. The National Institutes of Health says that PTSD affects about 7.7 million Americans and that women are more likely to develop the disorder than are men.
PTSD causes symptoms such as flashbacks, poor concentration, feeling of isolation, irritability or guilt, and sleep disorders including nightmares and insomnia. These symptoms may appear immediately after the stressful event or take weeks, months or even years to develop.
The researchers used information gathered from 54,224 participants of The Nurse’s Health Study II. The participants ranged in age from 24 to 44 when the study began in 1989; researchers followed up with participants in 2005. Researchers gathered height and weight information on most of the women in this study.
The scientists used a PTSD screening questionnaire to measure participants for symptoms of PTSD. The questionnaire asked the women to report how old they were when the worst event of their lives occurred, and whether they experienced symptoms of PTSD related to the event.
The researchers monitored the height-to-weight ratio, or BMI, throughout the study period of the women who reported PTSD symptoms. They found that women who experienced at least four PTSD symptoms showed an increase in BMI. Furthermore, these participants did not show a fast rise in BMI until after suffering symptoms of PTSD, making it clear that the weight gain was directly associated with the onset of PTSD symptoms.
Medical professionals agree that PTSD causes significant mental health issues for those who experience it. The results from this study show clinicians should also consider the physical effects PTSD can have. The authors of the research suggest physicians screen female patients with PTSD for cardiovascular problems associated with obesity. They also recommend women who have experienced symptoms of PTSD make changes in diet and exercise to reduce the risk for obesity.
- Laura D. Kubzansky, PhD; Paula Bordelois, MPH, et al. The Weight of Traumatic Stress: A Prospective Study of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms and Weight Status in Women. JAMA Psychiatry: November 20, 2013. Web. Retrieved 2 Dec 2013.
- PTSD: A Growing Epidemic. Medline Plus. National Institutes of Health. Winter 2009. Web. Retrieved 2 Dec 2013.