Objective: This study aimed to examine the relative contributions to physical health of combat trauma exposure and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which have both been implicated separately in poorer physical health but whose unconfounded effects have not been teased out.
Methods: Data from an epidemiological study of Australian Vietnam veterans, which used personal interviews and standardized physical and psychiatric health assessments, provided the means to assess the independent and joint effects of psychological trauma exposure and PTSD on a wide range of self-reported measures of physical health. Trauma exposure was measured by published scales of combat exposure and peritraumatic dissociation. Logistic regression modeling was used to assess the relative importance of trauma exposure and PTSD to health while controlling for a set of potential confounders including standardized psychiatric diagnoses.
Results: Greater health service usage and more recent health actions were associated more strongly with PTSD, which was also associated with a range of illness conditions coded by the World Health Organization International Classification of Diseases, 9th Edition (asthma, eczema, arthritis, back and other musculoskeletal disorders, and hypertension) both before and after controlling for potential confounders. In contrast, combat exposure and peritraumatic dissociation were more weakly associated with a limited number of unconfounded physical health outcomes.
Conclusions: This study provided evidence that PTSD, rather than combat exposure and peritraumatic dissociation, is associated with a pattern of physical health outcomes that is consistent with altered inflammatory responsiveness.