Infection Risk Doubled In PTSD Sufferers

PTSD is most commonly associated with military personnel returning from the battlefield or combat situations. However, with symptoms of PTSD being recognized in adults and teens with chronic stress, it is important to understand all the ramifications to the mind and body of the sufferer.

To that end, a new study was undertaken by the researchers at Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) to assess the relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder and a variety of infections in a broad-scope cohort.

The results show a clear connection between PTSD and increased risk of a number of infections in both men and women. Increased risk was found for infections varying from the flu to hepatitis to urinary tract infections and meningitis.

While the risks and risk levels varied in men and women, an overall increase in risk was affirmatively noted. Those with PTSD were 1.8 times more likely to suffer from any infection. Specifically, the risk of getting influenza increased by 1.7 times, while the increased likelihood of risk ranged from 1.3 times higher for meningitis to 2.7 times higher for viral hepatitis. Relative to gender, a woman’s risk of urinary tract infection was higher than that of a man, while men were at greater risk of skin infections.

This BUSPH study is the first one to fully examine the connection between PTSD and infection risk in a nationwide sample. It’s also the first to note a gender differential for infection risk, with men and women with PTSD having different risk multipliers for similar infections. The results were published in the journal Epidemiology.

“Our study adds to the growing evidence suggesting that PTSD and chronic severe stress are damaging for physical health,” says BUSPH doctoral candidate Ms. Tammy Jiang, who led the study. This highlights the importance of PTSD prevention and treatment interventions relative to public health, she says.

Ms. Jiang and her BUSPH colleagues were joined by researchers from Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, the University of Vermont and Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark in their efforts. Danish national records were accessed to review the health histories of every Danish-born citizen receiving a PTSD diagnosis between 1995 and 2011. They then matched each of those people to a comparison group of Danes of similar age and gender. Next, the hospital records of those in both samples were assessed for history of hospital care for 28 different types of infections.

They arrived at their result, that PTSD sufferers were 1.8 times more likely to suffer an infection than those without PTSD, after adjusting for other mental and physical health diagnoses, as well as marriage or registered partnership. This also allowed them to calculate the increased risk for each of the 28 types of infections noted.

Men and women with PTSD were compared to assess gender-relative risk. Men were found to have a relatively higher risk of skin infections, while women were at greater relative risk for several other types of infections, most notably urinary tract infections.

With PTSD and it’s symptoms on the rise among civilians as a result of chronic stress and traumatic life events, as well as its’ prevalence among military personnel, it’s important for us to understand all the ways in which it can negatively impact the body, mind and even the soul. Beginning with infectious diseases is not only relatively straightforward, but quite manageable. It will also allow us to develop ways to remove roadblocks to helping these sufferers return to health.

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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Journal Reference – Tammy Jiang, Dóra Körmendiné Farkas, Thomas P. Ahern, Timothy L. Lash, Henrik T. Sørensen, Jaimie L. Gradus. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Incident Infections. Epidemiology, 2019

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