PTSD linked to higher AFib risk in young veterans

An analysis of more than one million post-9/11 veterans suggests a new diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with a greater likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation (AFib). The study is scheduled to be presented May 11 at the Heart Rhythm Society’s annual scientific sessions in Boston.

"These data suggest that PTSD is a potentially modifiable risk factor for AFib," Lindsey Rosman, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow at Yale School of Medicine, said in a press release. "Our results also raise the possibility that early detection and treatment of PTSD may reduce a patient’s risk for developing AFib."

The research included individuals who first received care through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) from October 2011 through November 2014 and had no history of AFib or atrial flutter. Patients were 30 years old on average and 87.8 percent male.

After an average follow-up of 4.8 years, a total of 2,491 developed AFib. PTSD was associated with this cardiac arrhythmia even after adjustment for other cardiovascular risk factors.

"It’s important to note that our patient population was much younger than the average patient diagnosed with AFib and less than half had pre-existing structural cardiovascular disease prior to developing AFib,” Rosman said. “These results point to a potential opportunity to prevent young people who are exposed to trauma from developing a dangerous heart arrhythmia like AF that greatly impacts their long-term health and quality of life.”

Rosman and colleagues said future research could study whether early PTSD interventions can reduce the risk of veterans developing AFib. In addition, they said more work is needed to explore the mechanisms for the relationship between AF and PTSD.

A recent study also determined a combination of war injuries and PTSD can double a person's risk of developing hypertension.