Science Advance: Study Links Post-traumatic Stress Disorder & Cardiovascular Disease

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease, according to a recent study led by Atlanta Clinical & Translational Science Institute (ACTSI) researchers at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and sponsored in part by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health.

Emory researchers, along with colleagues from other institutions, assessed the presence of heart disease in 562 middle-aged twins from the Vietnam Era Twin Registry, using the ACTSI’s Clinical Research Site at Emory University Hospital.

"Our study is the first one to link PTSD to coronary heart disease using objective measures of heart disease, such as cardiac imaging techniques in addition to clinical histories," explains Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, ACTSI investigator and professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and the Wilton Looney Chair of Cardiovascular Research, Rollins School of Public Health. "Using a twin design and both clinical and imaging endpoints, we were able to clarify inconsistent results found in previous research."

The findings are published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and found the incidence of heart disease was 22.6 percent in twins with PTSD and 8.9 percent in those without PTSD. This study is the result of two pooled twin samples, recruited between 2002 and 2010. Participants were followed for about 13 years.

“The ACTSI made the study possible. It provided an invaluable and reliable way to examine the twin participants, since they traveled to Emory from all over the country. They spent 24 to 30 hours as in-patients in the ACTSI facility and this allowed us to standardize their schedule, activities and meals, while at the same time complete all the testing needed,” said Vaccarino. “The GCRCs provided experienced nursing staff that helped with blood draws and patient monitoring and provided ancillary funding for some of the laboratory costs, such as routine chemistry and other assays.”

The study was supported by The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute grants K24HL077506, R01 HL68630, and R21HL093665-01A1S, the National Institute of Aging grant R01 AG026255, the National Institute of Mental Health under award number K24 MH076955, and by the American Heart Association. Support also was provided by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences under award number UL1TR000454 and the National Center for Research Resources grant MO1-RR00039.