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Original Research

The Implication of Combat Stress and PTSD Trajectories in Metabolic Syndrome and Elevated C-Reactive Protein Levels: A Longitudinal Study

Zahava Solomon, PhD; Yafit Levin; Einor Ben Assayag, PhD; Orit Furman, PhD; Shani Shenhar-Tsarfaty, PhD; Shlomo Berliner, MD; and Avi Ohry, MD

Published: October 3, 2017

Article Abstract

Objective: This study sheds light on the importance of long-term follow-up of trauma survivors, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) trajectories, and early detection of health risk factors in trauma survivors. The present study prospectively assessed the following over 23 years: (1) the association of psychological and physiologic stress during captivity with elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) levels and metabolic syndrome (MetS), which includes hypertension; elevated levels of insulin, triglycerides, and fasting glucose; decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol; and obesity and (2) the implication of PTSD trajectories in elevated CRP levels and MetS.

Methods: Measurements were taken in 1991, 2003, 2008, and 2015. Participants were 116 Israeli combat veterans of the 1973 Yom Kippur War (of these, 101 were former prisoners of war [ex-POWs] and 15 were comparable controls). The medical assessments relevant for this study were body mass index, fasting blood glucose levels, and diabetes, blood pressure or a diagnosis of hypertension, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and medication intake. In addition, the PTSD Inventory was used to assess PTSD symptoms and trajectories over time according to DSM-IV-TR PTSD criteria.

Results: Captivity—in particular, the captivity stressors of weight loss, physical suffering, psychological suffering, and humiliation—was implicated in both elevated CRP levels and MetS, significantly so with elevated CRP levels (P = .01, R2 = 0.33). Captivity-induced PTSD, in particular chronic and delayed PTSD trajectories, was associated with elevated CRP levels and MetS, significantly so for MetS (P = .05).

Conclusions: Monitoring inflammation using markers like CRP level in trauma survivors can be beneficial, particularly if PTSD is chronic or delayed. Clinicians treating trauma survivors should raise awareness of the importance of such measures in light of long-term health vulnerabilities.

Volume: 78

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