Rate of Traumatic Stress Triples Among U.S. Troops

TUESDAY, Jan. 15 (HealthDay News) -- The incidence of new cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among combat-exposed U.S. soldiers has risen threefold since 2001, a new study finds.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder involving nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks linked to event "triggers" that develop after exposure to combat or other extremely disturbing events.

Researchers at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego analyzed data on more than 50,000 participants in the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking the health of U.S. military personnel over 22 years. The researchers compared data collected in July 2001 and June 2003 against data collected from June 2004 to February 2006.

The data included details about combat exposure, new onset PTSD symptoms, cigarette smoking and problem drinking.

Between 2001 and 2006, 40 percent of study participants were deployed, and 24 percent were deployed for the first time in support of the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

New-onset PTSD symptoms or diagnosis were reported by up to 87 per every 1,000 combat-deployed personnel and up to 21 per 1,000 non-combat deployed personnel, the study authors found.

Rates of new-onset PTSD symptoms were higher among female, divorced, and enlisted personnel, and among those who reported being current smokers or problem drinkers at baseline.

Reporting Tuesday in the online edition of the British Medical Journal, the team also found persistent PTSD symptoms in 40 percent to 50 percent of participants who had PTSD at baseline, which suggested resolution of PTSD may take several years.

Overall, the findings suggested that cases of self-reported or diagnosed PTSD have risen threefold among recently deployed troops exposed to combat, the study found.

The overall prevalence of PTSD in the U.S. military was not high, but a substantial number of new cases could be expected based on the number of personnel deployed in Iraq and in Afghanistan, the study authors said.

They noted that early identification and appropriate and timely treatment of PTSD symptoms may help reduce the burden of the disorder in the future. They also recommended more research to better understand resiliency and vulnerability to PTSD among combat-deployed personnel.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: BMJ Online First, news release, Jan. 15, 2008

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