Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Associated with Obesity


It is estimated that around 7.7 million American adults are affected with PTSD and veterans returning from a combat are at an increased risk. Post-traumatic stress disorder causes various physical health problems like dizziness, fainting, headache and insomnia. A study published in open access journal BMC Medicine has found an association between PTSD and obesity, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. The underlying reason for metabolic disorders could be due to alcohol and drug use, smoking and poor eating habits.

According to a group of Wellington School of Medicine and Health Associates at Otago University in New Zealand researchers revealed that approximately 6% of the 13,000 people they had surveyed to determine the link between PTSD and obesity,  are, in fact, obese.

Another study done by Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Richmond, Virginia) researchers revealed alarming results. Approximately, 84% of the veterans could be considered obese based on their BMI score.

A recent long-term research has reported that posttraumatic stress disorder also doubles the risk of heart attack. Scientists opine that repeated emotional triggers in a person affected with PTSD could lead to frequent increase in blood pressure and heart rate resulting in abnormal heart rhythm making them susceptible to heart attacks.

Scientits are still researching to understand the complex interactions between biological and psychological mechanisms that cause many physical and mental illness in a person affected with PTSD.

Posttraumatic stress disorder associated with obesity and diagnosed at an early stage can help prevent  health complications with treatment options currently available.

Psychotherapy – This treatment involves various types of psychiatric counseling in which a therapist helps the patient to overcome their anxiety by gaining control over their thoughts. Some effective therapies include:

  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: The patient is made to recall the traumatic events under a controlled manner. Therapist helps the patients to control their feeling and restructure their thoughts towards stimuli triggering anxiety and fear.
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy: This strategy was initially used to treat rape victims and later to treat PTSD victims as well. The therapist helps the patient cope with feelings of anger, guilt, fear and other stressful thoughts to help modify erroneous thoughts.
  •  Stress-Inoculation Therapy: It is another form of Cognitive Behavior Therapy where the patients are taught relaxing and breathing exercise to control their emotions and to think positively.

Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) – In this therapy, the patient is made to focus on other stimuli like eye movements, hand taps and other sounds while recounting the traumatic event. Though the working behind this model is unclear, many studies have reported that this approach helps reduce anxiety symptoms.

Medication – Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is widely used to get relief from depression and feel better. Paroxetine (Paxil) and sertaline (Zoloft) have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating PTSD.

Experts are experimenting with various options to design a more effective treatment strategy for PTSD. One such option is virtual reality, where 3-D images, sounds and other effects are used to recreate the experience of the traumatic event. Gradual exposure to stimuli under controlled settings might help the patients overcome their anxiety and fear in the long run. Research on virtual reality is under progress.

With the right treatment, patients can effectively manage post-traumatic stress disorder associated with obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Written by: Janet Grace Ortigas

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