New Study on Young Veterans, PTSD, and Fight or Flight Response

03 Aug 2017

A recent study found that young veterans with PTSD have an increased fight or flight response during mental stress. The research provides important insights into how to protect veterans with PTSD from the effects of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Medical experts have long suspected that over activity in the sympathetic nervous system was a factor in treating veterans experiencing PTSD. This study led by a team at Emory University was the first to measure the activity directly and analyze the potential mechanisms behind it.

Participants were tested for their reaction to two types of mental stress, mental arithmetic unrelated to PTSD and first person war images and sounds recreated through virtual reality goggles. Sympathetic nerve activity was recorded using techniques including microneurography whereby electrodes are placed inside a nerve. The researchers found that post-9/11 veterans with combat-related PTSD had an increased fight or flight response during mental stress, higher adrenaline levels, and less control of their heart rate in response to blood pressure changes.

The findings are significant given that an estimated 14% of post-9/11 veterans experience PTSD, and related increased risks for high blood pressure and heart disease. The researchers hope to use the findings to improve diagnosis and treatment. Currently, most doctors recommend controlling high blood pressure through lifestyle changes such as eating a low-salt healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and losing weight. Drugs such as Thiazide diuretics and beta blockers may also be prescribed.

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