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Military Members with Trauma History at Increased Risk of Chronic Conditions

Along with PTSD and major depressive disorder, diabetes, fibromyalgia, fatigue, and chronic pain are more prevalent in this population.

A PPM Brief

Members of the military who experience trauma during their service may be at an increased risk of developing chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, fatigue, and chronic pain, according to research presented at the 2018 American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Meeting.1 Researchers from the University of Iowa looked at the associations of trauma, including military sexual trauma (MST), adverse childhood events and military deployment/combat experience with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), and the chronic medical conditions noted above.

“It is not well understood why traumatic experiences are associated with poor health outcomes,” lead author Gen Shinozaki, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa, told PPM. “However, it is important for clinicians to pay attention to the potential role of such traumatic experiences in the mental and physical symptoms of their patients.”

The study involved 388 military personnel (201 male, 187 female) recruited through the Iowa City Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Medical Center. Participants took part in computer-assisted telephone interviews using the PTSD Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5), CES Depression scale, and Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Questionnaire, compiling data on military deployment, combat experience, history of sexual trauma experienced in the military, and other types of potential military and civilian trauma.

Military trauma experienced during service was significantly linked with greater medical comorbidities among women.Military trauma experienced during service was significantly linked with greater medical comorbidities among women. (Source: 123RF)

Military trauma experienced during service was significantly linked with greater medical comorbidities (eg, diabetes, fibromyalgia, fatigue, and pain) (chi square = 8.46; P = 0.0036) among women, while researchers also found a significant increase in chronic health conditions among men with a history of military trauma.

When asked whether healthcare professionals should ask female chronic pain patients about past trauma, including sexual trauma (of which 30% of female veterans have reported being sexually assaulted during their time of service), Dr. Shinozaki advised that, “It is first important to establish a good rapport and relationship with the patients as a primary care physician. When treatment does not work effectively as expected, as a potential root cause, asking such questions could be helpful to better understand the nature and potential cause of their symptoms.” He continued by saying that, “Once you find out about military sexual trauma among female military patients, it might be beneficial for them to be referred to seek help for therapy through mental health professionals, and potentially such [an] approach can benefit other physical symptoms.”

Last updated on: October 30, 2018
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Post-trauma Pain Management: A “Back to Basics” Approach
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