Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has a wide range of damaging health effects, from sleep apnoea to gastro-intestinal problems, according to a new study.
Researchers looked at the health of 298 Australian Vietnam war veterans, and 108 of those veterans were confirmed as having PTSD.
Miriam Dwyer, the CEO of the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation, said they found a large range of health conditions among the veterans.
“They were four times more likely to have suffered a heart attack in the past,” she said.
“[They were also] three times more likely to have suffered from sleep apnoea and other sleep conditions.
“Also, which was very interesting, was they were two to three times at a higher risk of suffering from gastro-intestinal problems — like irritable bowel, associated symptoms like reflux and stomach ulcers.”
Ms Dwyer said the combination of physiological impact and physical impact had “a sense of just poor wellbeing”.
“We are a full complement of all of our senses, so when you’re genuinely feeling unwell, it has an impact on the rest of your life and on the families of vets.”
She said the study proved PTSD needed to be considered as a full systemic disorder, rather than just a mental health problem.
“Part of our research really is endeavouring to turn that research into action,” she said.
‘We need to do better with this generation’
John Bale, the CEO and co-founder of Soldier On, an organisation focussed on the physical and mental health of veterans of modern wars, said he had seen similar symptoms among veterans.
“Sleep would be the biggest one, we see a real issue with sleep with veterans who have been impacted mentally,” he said.
“Also eating habits, and some issues with exercise.”
He said he hoped the research would help to improve the response of health professionals when dealing with veterans.
“We need to do better for this generation … the modern veterans who have recently returned and still serve today, than we did for the Vietnam veterans,” he said.
“And the sooner we can provide early intervention in a range of ways, we can make sure that these links between mental health and physical health can be significantly reduced and we can target both at the same time.”
The research was funded by the Queensland branch of the RSL and published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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