U.S. veterans with PTSD are twice as likely as the general population to die from suicide, accidents and viral hepatitis, a new study finds.
Veterans with PTSD also have a higher risk of death from diabetes and liver disease, according to the study published June 24 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
"Our findings suggest that treatment-seeking veterans with PTSD, including young veterans and women, are dying from largely preventable causes compared with the general population," lead investigator Dr. Jenna Forehand said in a journal news release.
"PTSD is therefore a major public health concern and a priority for preventive health care," she added. Forehand is a researcher with the National Center for Patient Safety at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt.
Her team looked at the top causes of death among 491,000 veterans who began PTSD treatment at V.A. medical centers between 2008 and 2013.
Of those, 5,215 (1%) died within the first year of care, a rate 5% higher than in the general population.
During their first year of treatment, younger vets were more likely to die from suicide and accidents, while those middle-aged and older had a higher risk of death from heart disease and cancer.
Among accident victims, more than half died of poisoning. Researchers said that could include some misclassified suicides.
They noted that advances in treatment have improved survival from combat injuries, but PTSD, pain disorders and opioid use are common among survivors.
Veterans with PTSD and pain may be at increased risk for opioid abuse, and opioids may be a factor in accidental injury, suicide and hepatitis-related deaths among them, according to the researchers.
"Future studies should develop preventive interventions that target PTSD and co-morbid depression, pain disorder, and substance use to lessen the risk of suicide, accidental poisoning, and viral hepatitis in veterans with PTSD," Forehand said.
She added that lifestyle modifications may reduce the risk of diabetes and chronic liver disease among these patients.
"Veterans seeking treatment for PTSD should receive comprehensive education on the benefits of diet and exercise and the risks of chronic stress and substance use," Forehand concluded.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on PTSD.