Trauma Exposure and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms Predict Onset of Cardiovascular Events in Women

Circulation. 2015 Jul 28;132(4):251-9. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.014492. Epub 2015 Jun 29.


Background: Psychological stress is a proposed risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the sentinel stress-related mental disorder, occurs twice as frequently in women as men. However, whether PTSD contributes to CVD risk in women is not established.

Methods and results: We examined trauma exposure and PTSD symptoms in relation to incident CVD over a 20-year period in 49 978 women in the Nurses' Health Study II. Proportional hazards models estimated hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals for CVD events confirmed by additional information or medical record review (n=548, including myocardial infarction [n=277] and stroke [n=271]). Trauma exposure and PTSD symptoms were assessed by using the Brief Trauma Questionnaire and a PTSD screen. In comparison with no trauma exposure, endorsing ≥4 PTSD symptoms was associated with increased CVD risk after adjusting for age, family history, and childhood factors (hazard ratio,1.60; 95% confidence interval, 1.20-2.13). Being trauma-exposed and endorsing no PTSD symptoms was associated with elevated CVD risk (hazard ratio, 1.45; 95% confidence interval, 1.15-1.83), although being trauma-exposed and endorsing 1 to 3 PTSD symptoms was not. After adjusting for adult health behaviors and medical risk factors, this pattern of findings was maintained. Health behaviors and medical risk factors accounted for 14% of the trauma/no symptoms-CVD association and 47% of the trauma/4+ symptoms-CVD association.

Conclusion: Trauma exposure and elevated PTSD symptoms may increase the risk of CVD in this population of women. These findings suggest that screening for CVD risk and reducing health risk behaviors in trauma-exposed women may be promising avenues for prevention and intervention.

Keywords: cardiovascular diseases; epidemiology; stress disorders, post-traumatic; women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardial Infarction / epidemiology*
  • Nurses
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stroke / epidemiology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Wounds and Injuries / complications*