Development of a Health Behavior Intervention for Adults with PTSD


The incentive to identify and develop effective early interventions for post-traumatic stress disorder comes from three sources. First, PTSD is a distressing and disabling condition from which a great number of sufferers do not spontaneously recover. Therefore, early and effective treatment might reduce the burden of PTSD on both the individual and society. Second, now that studies have identified the post-incident prevalence rates of PTSD from large-scale disasters and combat, there is concern to ameliorate the impact of PTSD by responding in the early days and weeks following such incidents. Third, occupational groups such as firefighters have campaigned to have the psychological impact of their work recognized and support services delivered as part of their conditions of employment. In addition, in military organizations, there exists a specific drive to early interventions – that of enabling traumatized combatants to return to front-line duties as soon as possible. However, given that the prevalence of initial distress following a traumatic event is far greater than that of either acute stress disorder or PTSD, the potential exists to deliver interventions to people whose problems would spontaneously remit.

As well as the time commitment required of the traumatized individual, interventions for traumatic stress generally involve confronting aspects of distressing experiences, the emotional cost of which might not warrant early intervention. This potential for diluting the cost-effectiveness of early interventions is a significant factor in service planning, particularly disaster planning and employee support. There is a vigorous debate between those who would provide some intervention for all victims and survivors of traumatic incidents, and those who advocate waiting and targeting interventions at people likely to develop the disabling symptoms of chronic PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a disorder of extreme stress/anxiety responses to a psychologically traumatic experience, has been associated with significantly greater incidence of heart disease and prevalence of metabolic syndrome. This higher risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) in PTSD appears to be, in part, due to difficulties maintaining healthy lifestyles (e.g., weight management through healthy diet and regular physical activity, adequate sleep) and coping with daily stressors. The need for developing effective CVD prevention programs for adults with PTSD is increasingly evident.

Therefore additional research is needed to examine programs that may reduce health risk behaviors and prevent early onset of CVD. The present project is a pilot study to examine whether a treatment program focused on healthy lifestyle behaviors (physical activity, good nutrition, sleep hygiene) and stress management will be associated with reductions in the levels of CVD risk variables (e.g., body weight, lipids, blood pressure) for adults with chronic PTSD and least one of the targeted health risks. This presentation illustrates the development of the intervention program, and the design of the study measurement. Results of preliminary cases will assist in determining whether targeting health behaviors as a novel component of PTSD treatment aids in reducing CVD risk.

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