PTSD and Trauma Increase Women’s Heart Disease Risk
Until recently, physicians and other health professionals regarded post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as primarily a psychological or mental health issue. However, an eye-opening new study found that PTSD also poses a serious physical health risk – cardiovascular disease. The study also revealed that women who experienced trauma are more likely to develop heart disease than men who experienced trauma.
Gender differences in response to fear may make women more vulnerable to developing trauma and PTSD. University of California, San Francisco researchers, along with the Northern California Institute for Research and Education examined people with PTSD symptoms and found that the women were more likely to develop a stronger fear response, and more likely to have stronger responses to fear-inducing stimuli.1
The federally funded study evaluated 50,000 women (previous studies were done only on men) for a connection between PTSD and cardiovascular disease. It not only found that trauma affects women’s heart health more than men’s – but that women who had a traumatic event in their lives had a higher risk for heart attacks and strokes than women who did not suffer a trauma.2
Traumatic experiences, such as violence, combat, physical or sexual abuse, a major accident, or sudden death of a loved one, can result in symptoms like chronic insomnia, the inability to concentrate, extreme anger, anxiety, guilt, depression and obsessive thinking. For those with PTSD, these symptoms continue long after the trauma occurred.
Research by the National Comorbidity Survey Replication reported that about half of all women in the U.S. will be exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.3 The most common trauma for women is sexual assault or child sexual abuse. Women are also more likely to experience domestic violence, neglect or abuse as children. While not all women who experience trauma develop PTSD, women with multiple PTSD symptoms can have a 60% higher risk of cardiovascular disease; and even women with trauma but no PTSD symptoms, can have a 45% higher risk of heart disease than women who have not experienced a traumatic event.4
Fortunately, this research has heightened awareness of the dangers of not treating PTSD, and has increased the urgency of treating symptoms of trauma and PTSD, especially in women.
If you or someone you care about has survived a traumatic event, been sexually assaulted or has one or more of the symptoms mentioned earlier, seeking professional counselor or therapy can start you on the path to regaining your mental and emotional health and improving your chances of avoiding cardiovascular disease.
Treatment Options for PTSD
The goal of psychotherapy for PTSD sufferers is to substantially lessen, or eliminate, the impact of their symptoms on their lives, and ultimately return them to a state of health and well-being,
Several therapeutic techniques are very effective for treating PTSD. One is Eye Movement Desensitization and ReprocessingÒ (EMDR), a natural, shorter-term therapy where the client and therapist work together to release the client’s traumatic memories and dissipate the stress held in their nervous system from the event. Extensive scientific research has validated that EMDR, when facilitated by a trained EMDR therapist, is very successful in decreasing or eliminating many PTSD symptoms.
Another excellent treatment for trauma and PTSD is Somatic ExperiencingÒ (SE). Advances in brain research led to the development of this drug-free, short-term approach to discharging the negative energy held in the body from a past trauma, in order to restore balance to the nervous system. Clients treated with SE have experienced a dramatic reduction, or elimination, of their trauma symptoms.
The consequences of experiencing trauma and having PTSD are much more serious than previously thought. Receiving treatment as early as possible can make a significant difference in the physical health, longevity and quality of life of people with PTSD symptoms. As this study clearly shows, treatment is an even greater priority for women with trauma-related problems.
In addition to being a certified EMDRÒ therapist, a Somatic ExperiencingÒ practitioner, a certified sex therapist, and a Board-certified expert in traumatic stress, Dr. Boulware has extensive experience treating adult survivors of child abuse (adults who were emotionally, physically or sexually abused as children).
1 “Gender Differences in PTSD Risk May Be Due to Heightened Fear Conditioning in Women,”
Jeffrey Norris, USCF website, Nov. 19, 2012
2 “PTSD, trauma may raise heart, stroke risk in women,” American Heart Association journal,
Circulation; June 2015.
3 “Research on Women, Trauma and PTSD,” U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs website, D. Vogt, PhD,
4 “PTSD, trauma may raise heart, stroke risk in women,” American Heart Association journal,
Circulation; June 2015.
Dr. Boulware is a Certified Sex Therapist, Psychotherapist, Certified EMDRÒ Therapist, and a Somatic ExperiencingÒ Practitioner practicing in Santa Monica and Redondo Beach. She is
a member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network.
(Dr. Boulware is not taking any new patients currently.)