PTSD and Cardiovascular Disease

integrative heart health mainline

By Georgia Tetlow, MD and Jill Maddock, PIM Office Manager

October is National Sudden Cardiac Awareness (or SCA) Month. According to the Heart Rhythm Society, 65% of Americans believe that SCA is the same as a heart attack and underestimate the seriousness. Our very own Annmarie McManus, PA gave a talk this past week on Integrative Medicine for Cardiovascular Health, find the presentation here. Those at highest risk for SCA are survivors of a past cardiovascular event. October is the perfect time to evaluate and maintain your lifestyle to decrease risk. A few weeks ago, my post focused on trauma and anxiety. It is interesting to know that trauma and PTSD, if left untreated, can possibly lead to a more serious condition.  Of those who experience a heart attack, 10-20% develop PTSD. At Philadelphia Integrative Medicine, we search for the causes of chronic illness, including cardiovascular disease. The body is connected as whole, and our adrenals, hormone balance, blood sugar regulation and many other systems contribute to cardiovascular health and illness--such as a TIA, stroke or heart attack. If there is a disturbance in one system, frequently that disturbance can affect our other body systems in some way. It’s important to look for the root causes of symptoms to understand what they are telling us about why we are ill. Being curious in this way can often give us the needed clues so we can change our lifestyle and daily choices and actually feel and be more well.


Our mental, emotional and spiritual systems profoundly affect one another. And a condition or disease can actually be both a cause and an effect. One example is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and cardiovascular disease. PTSD is associated with cardiovascular imbalances such  such as hyperlipidemia, coronary heart disease and hypertension, you can learn in an article by Steven Coughlin. The reverse is also true--cardiovascular events themselves can cause PTSD. This is the case in more than 1 in 8 patients with an acute coronary condition. Experiencing PTSD after an initial cardiovascular event doubles the risk of another event.

There are many explanations on how CVD can be influenced by PTSD. The most noteable is allostatic load. This is when chronic stressors lead to increase neuroendocrine or neural responses that lead to adverse effects--you may have wondered how being stressed day in day out affects your health--well now we know! As a result of prolonged activation of the sympathetic nervous system and HPA axis, catecholamine levels are elevated and blood pressure, vasoconstriction and coagulability increase, heart rate variability decreases, and a pro-inflammatory state develops (Bedi 2007; Player & Peterson 2011; Wentworth et al. 2012).

A disturbance in one system can cause as well as be caused by a dysfunction in another system, as our body connects to and is affected by each of its parts. At PIM we also evaluate and look for causes of inflammation, which can come from toxicity, immune conditions and many other sources. Inflammation is now understood to mediate all forms of chronic illness, so it is key to check for it and understand how to reduce it!

The Solution

There is much that can be done to improve conditions such as PTSD and CVD through diet and exercise. To help you reduce chronic stress, and lower your total cholesterol as well as improve particle size and quality (light and fluffy cholesterol is much better than small and dense particles!) your PIM provider is here to help. It is important that you work with a provider who can evaluate the root cause of your symptoms. At PIM, our Integrative Team of providers work closely with you to identify the root causes of your symptoms so you are treated like and feel like a whole person.

Interested in connecting with PIM? Register for our upcoming group class at Cabrini College: November 28th - Your Gut Health: Healing Leaky Gut and SIBO with Lauren Houser, CRNP. Admission is FREE!

If you or your loved one has ongoing stress, mood or hormone imbalance, or they are suffering from a chronic illness, please consider scheduling a 20 minute free consultation or an appointment with Annmarie McManus, MMSc, PA-C, PT, IFMCP or Lauren Houser, CRNP, our certified Functional Medicine providers.