Massage therapy reduces stress and blood pressure while inducing relaxation and well-being. Some massage therapists volunteer their services to U.S. service personnel who have returned from the Middle East, in order to combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and related problems.

Numerous studies indicate that U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are prone to PTSD and a host of attendant problems, including depression, increased risk of suicide, spine disorders, headache, lower extremity joint disorders and hearing problems.

New research indicates PTSD more than doubles a veteran’s risk of death from any cause and is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, according to a press release from the American Heart Association.

PTSD is a cluster of symptoms that can include emotional numbing, avoidance of certain situations, hyperarousal, sleep disruptions and impaired concentration, the press release noted.

“This study for the first time appears to point to the mechanism for the cardiovascular part of that excess mortality risk: accelerated atherosclerosis,” said said Naser Ahmadi, M.D., a research scientist at the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center. “Our trial is the first to make a direct association between PTSD and atherosclerotic coronary disease as measured by coronary artery calcification (CAC), a standard test that is commonly used in studies such as ours because it can be measured non-invasively.”

Researchers studied the electronic medical records of 286,194 veterans (average age 63, 85.1 percent male) treated at VA medical centers in southern California and Nevada. The veterans participated in conflicts dating back to the Korean War.

During an average follow-up of nearly 10 years and after adjusting for age, gender, and common cardiovascular risk factors, the researchers found that veterans diagnosed with PTSD had 2.41 times the rate of death from all causes compared to non-PTSD veterans, making PTSD an independent predictor of death from all causes.

“The current PTSD treatment protocol is to provide relief of symptoms alone,” Ahmadi said. “PTSD is a very debilitating disorder. It makes the patient feel hopeless. These patients constantly struggle with many different (psychological) problems.”

The research was presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2010.

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