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Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are twice as prone to stomach ulcers and four times more likely to have had a heart attack, according to the world’s first comprehensive study into the medical and psychological health of Vietnam veterans.

The research, funded by RSL Queensland and conducted by the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation (GMRF), involved clinical and psychological evaluations of 300 veterans.

The $1.75 million three-year study involved collaboration with Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology and Queensland X-ray to assess veterans’ blood pathology, heart disease and lung function assessments,  abdominal ultrasounds and brain imaging.

The research also involved tests on resilience, alcohol use, sleep habits, and diet.

It found Vietnam veterans with PTSD had a higher risk of sleep disorders, gastrointestinal problems and cardiac disease than service personnel without the condition.

GMRF research director Professor Darrell Crawford presented  the findings on 11 September at PTSD 2015, a forum held in Brisbane.

Professor Crawford said the results revealed distinct physical symptoms in veterans with PTSD.

“When we compare participants with PTSD to those without, we find a greater risk of nightmares and sleep apnoea as well as bigger tendency for problems like irritable bowel syndrome, reflux, heart disease and respiratory problems,’’ Professor Crawford said.

GMRF chief executive officer Miriam Dwyer said further analysis was currently underway in conjunction with CSIRO and Queensland University of Technology to evaluate brain imaging data as well as genetic and inflammatory markers.

“The results of this Vietnam veteran study will inform the next phase of research – the Veteran Mental Health Initiative – for which RSL Queensland recently committed another $5 million,’’ said Ms Dwyer.

RSL Queensland State President Stewart Cameron said the findings of the Vietnam veteran study confirmed the importance of funding medical and scientific research into PTSD.

“The initial findings make public the significant physical effects of PTSD,’’ he said.

“This vital medical and scientific research will be ongoing and will play a role in best treatments of the disorder both now and in the future.”

Key findings revealed veterans with PTSD have:

  • More than triple the risk of acting out their dreams while asleep.
  • Twice the chance of being diagnosed with sleep apnoea.
  • Almost two times the tendency of restless legs.
  • Increased daytime fatigue and sleepiness.
  • Two times the chance of suffering stomach ulcers
  • Double the chance of reflux
  • Greater tendency to report constipation, diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome
  • A four-fold higher risk of heart attack in the past
  • Lower levels of the ‘good’ cholesterol which contributes to an increased risk of heart disease

Find out more about the initial study findings at the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation website.

View media coverage of the research results.