Beyond Blue – an Australian not-for-profit working to reduce the impact of anxiety, depression and suicide in the community – describes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a particular set of reactions that can develop in those who have experienced a traumatic event.

The organisation identifies the following four main feelings associated with PTSD:

  • Re-living the traumatic event
  • Being overly alert or wound up
  • Avoiding reminders of the event
  • Feeling emotionally numb.

On its own, PTSD can be an extremely debilitating illness. A new study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry this week (January 7, 2015) suggests women living with PTSD are also at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (T2D).

The 22-year longitudinal study conducted by researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, followed the lives of 49,739 women aged between 24 and 42 (when the study commenced). The research indicates women living with PTSD are at a two-fold increased risk for developing T2D, compared with women who experience no mental trauma.

Speaking with Time Magazine, study author, Karestan Koenen said, “When we are under stress we are more likely to get sick, but women with PTSD are in this extreme stress response a lot of the time.”

According to Koenen, the study examined women with various symptoms of PTSD and the highest incidence of T2D occurred in those with the most symptoms. Furthermore, one of the most surprising findings post-study was women with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) taking antidepressant treatments were at highest risk of developing T2D.

Past studies have linked an increased Body Mass Index (BMI) to T2D, but never before has antidepressant use been linked to T2D.

In her Time Magazine interview, Koenen explained, “It’s [antidepressant link] probably one of the most interesting findings and I don’t have a good explanation for it.”

Koenen et al explained the most common forms of PTSD experienced and reported by the female study participants were child abuse and interpersonal violence, including rape, sexual assault, and abuse from a partner.

Addressing women and their doctors via Healthline, Koenen said, “It’s important for women and their doctors to know that PTSD and trauma have profound effects on physical health, not just mental health.”

She also concluded that although this study focused only on women living with PTSD, its results were consistent with previously conducted military research on all, or mostly male groups.

The study authors concluded, citing “Our findings have implications for research and practice. Further research must identify the biochemical and possible additional behavioral changes, such as sleep disturbance, that mediate the relationship between PTSD and onset of T2D. A better understanding of pathways will facilitate interventions to prevent this disabling disease.”

The study, entitled the Nurses’ Health Study II, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in a Sample of Women – A 22 Year Longitudinal Study may be viewed here.