Why Is Physical Illness More Common In PTSD Sufferers?

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If we have suffered from significant childhood trauma leading to the development of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in our adult lives this also puts us at increased risk of developing various unpleasant physical symptoms. This is because the trauma has had chemical effects in our brain (leading to our PTSD) which can have knock-on adverse effects upon our body. I provide examples of the kind of symptoms that may result below :

SYMPTOMS :

  • increased rate of heartbeat
  • stomach / digestive problems
  • rapid and shallow breathing (often referred to as hyperventilation)
  • shaking / trembling / tremors / localized muscle spasms
  • feeling faint / light-headedness
  • sweating

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DISEASES AND DISORDERS :

A positive correlation exists between the incidence of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a population and the incidence of certain physical diseases and disorders (shown below) in that same population. However, further research needs to be conducted in order to ascertain whether having post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increases one’s risk of suffering these conditions or whether having such conditions makes one more vulnerable to developing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some of the diseases and disorders associated with PTSD are as follows :

  • cardiovascular disease
  • increased probability of suffering from heart attacks
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • headaches
  • certain autoimmune disorders (eg those causing problems with the skin)
  • pregnancy complications
  • miscarriage
  • preterm contractions
  • obesity

 

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Above : PTSD physically, biologically and chemically alters the brain – these changes may lead to physical symptoms, diseases and disorders in some sufferers, on top of the immense psychological pain and suffering it causes all who are unfortunate enough to have the condition.

 

Why Do Such Links Between PTSD And These Disorders Exist?

Various theories have been put forward in an attempt to explain why such links between PTSD and physical disorders such as those listed above exist.

  1. Increases in stress hormones such as cortisol over time have an adverse physical effect upon the heart and cardiovascular system.
  2. PTSD can lead to unhealthy ways of trying to cope with mental pain and suffering such as excessive drinking, excessive smoking and the ingestion of dangerous narcotics and overeating (so-called ‘comfort eating’) all of which, in turn, can lead to declining physical health.
  3. PTSD sufferers tend also to be seriously depressed and therefore lethargic – this can mean that PTSD sufferers take very little physical exercise leading to a greater likelihood of developing physical health problems.
  4. PTSD causes a change in the balance of chemicals in the brain and these changes, in turn, may cause yet further changes adversely affecting the immune system and various bodily organs.
  5. Changes in certain chemicals that negatively affect the mind also adversely affect the stomach.

 

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSC; PGDE(FAHE).

 

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