The association of traumatic experiences and posttraumatic stress disorder with physical morbidity in old age: a German population-based study

Heide Glaesmer, Elmar Brähler, Harald Gündel, Steffi G Riedel-Heller
Psychosomatic Medicine 2011, 73 (5): 401-6

OBJECTIVE: To examine the relationship of traumatic experiences and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among a representative population sample of 1456 German elderly (60-85 years). Several studies have suggested that PTSD and traumatic experiences are related to adverse health outcomes. However, many past studies were based on special samples such as combat veterans or survivors of natural disasters.

METHODS: Using self-report data and regression analyses, we investigated the association of traumatic experiences and PTSD with several medical conditions.

RESULTS: Traumatized subjects had a significantly increased risk for all the medical conditions under study compared with those participants without a traumatic exposure, ranging from odds ratio of 1.37 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.07-1.75) for hypertension up to 5.12 (95% CI = 2.25-11.6) for cancer. There are significant associations of current PTSD with cardiovascular diseases (angina pectoris/coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and peripheral vascular disease) and cardiovascular risk factors (hypertension and elevated cholesterol level; odds ratio of 1.94 [95% CI = 1.14-3.31]) for peripheral vascular disease up to 3.76 [95% CI = 2.11-6.70] for elevated cholesterol level), as well as with asthma, cancer, back pain, hard of hearing, osteoporosis, stomach problems, and thyroid disorders.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest an association between traumatic stress and PTSD with impaired physical health in a general population sample in the German elderly. It underscores the importance of traumatic experiences and PTSD not only for mental health but also for physical health as a long-term consequence.

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