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Women Suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Carry Diabetes Risk

FILE - A female U.S. Marine touches the grave of a friend at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Women who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, are almost two times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, something that has been seen in male military veterans.

The risk for diabetes is highest among women who suffer the greatest number of PTSD symptoms.

Investigators used data from the large Nurse’s Health Study that followed 50,000 women over a 22-year period. More than 3,000 of them developed type 2 diabetes.

Researchers found women who were diagnosed with six to seven symptoms of post-traumatic stress were almost twice as likely to develop the disease compared to women who did not suffer a traumatic event.

Epidemiologist Karestan Koenen of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York says the women who developed diabetes had been traumatized in a number of ways.

“They have experienced child abuse, interpersonal violence, meaning domestic violence, mugging. They have also experienced other events including death of a child, miscarriage, exposure to disasters. So the whole range of experiences,” she said.

Koenen says women who suffered from PTSD tended to be overweight, a risk factor for diabetes, and many were on antidepressant medication, which is thought to predispose patients to the disease.

Koenen says the findings provide more evidence of a strong link between the mind and physical well-being.

“We are really learning that the mind and the body are not separate. In our medical system, we treat the brain and mental disorders as something completely separate from physical disorders and chronic disease, like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, et cetera," she said. "And I think we are learning more and more that the two are linked, that the brain affects the body and body affects the brain. And we need to think about that and how we integrate the two types of treatment in our medical system.”

Koenen says men who are veterans of the military who suffer from PTSD have also been shown to be twice as likely to develop diabetes. She says doctors treating both men and women for post-traumatic stress should have them followed closely for diabetes and other diseases.

The study on post-traumatic stress in women and diabetes is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.