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Trauma, PTSD linked to blood clot risk in women, study says

The more PTSD-related symptoms a woman reports, the more likely she is to develop venous thromboembolism -- a risk that has also been related to depression in previous studies.

By Stephen Feller
Trauma, PTSD linked to blood clot risk in women, study says
The more symptoms of PTSD a woman reports, the more likely she is to develop a clotting condition, researchers at Harvard found in a recent study. Photo by John Gomez/Shutterstock

BOSTON, Miss., May 17 (UPI) -- Women with trauma or symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are at greater risk for blood clots, according to a large review of medical data.

Researchers at Harvard University report women with disorders related to trauma are at a significantly higher risk for developing venous thromboembolism, or VTE, than women without PTSD symptoms.

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VTE, the third leading cause of cardiovascular death in the United States, includes deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, sometimes leading to chronic clotting conditions, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Women who use birth control pills or have hormone therapy related to menopause are at greater risk for VTE. Depression also has been linked to higher risk of the condition, so a link to trauma and PTSD make sense.

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"We believe that our findings have particular relevance for women's health," Dr. Jennifer Sumner, an instructor of medical sciences at Columbia University Medical Center and visiting researcher at Harvard University, said in a press release. "VTE is a significant health concern for women, especially women of childbearing age. Our study suggests that PTSD may be an important vulnerability factor for developing VTE in women."

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For the study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers used proportional hazard models to calculate the likelihood of VTE in 49,296 women who participated in the Nurses' Health Study II over the course of 22 years.

Overall, roughly 35,000 reported a traumatic event near the beginning of the study, with about 9,000 women reporting one or more symptoms of PTSD and 960 women self-reporting clotting events during the study.

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Women with the most PTSD symptoms had the greatest risk for VTE, with risk about the same even after researchers accounted for VTE-related medications, other conditions and health behaviors.

"Primary care providers serving populations at high risk for PTSD should screen for VTE risk and monitor the health of those with PTSD," said Dr. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Harvard University. "Our findings add to the growing evidence that the experience of extremely stressful, traumatic events and related post-traumatic stress reactions may inflict cardiovascular damage, in addition to the significant mental health burden of the condition."

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