post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as it is presented in the popular press. Often popular topics such as PTSD are reviewed by authors without a clear understanding of the research or data. Although the popular press provides the laymen with a clear means for accessing critical health information, often a clear evaluation of the research from which data is gleaned cannot be effectively assessed by the reader. Using this as a basis for investigation, this research considers a recent article published by New Scientist on the topic of PTSD (MacKenzie, 2005). Through a careful review of the article and a review of the scholarly literature published on this disorder, it will be possible to effectively evaluate the overall quality of the information provided in this popular press article.
Review of the Article
In order to begin this investigation, it is first necessary to provide a review of MacKenzie’s (2005) original article. In this article, the author highlights the results of a study on Vietnam War veterans conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2004. According to the author, the CDC examined data from 18,000 veterans that had been included in a detailed health survey completed in 1985. The CDC sought to uncover how many of the men had died and by what means. A review of the data by the CDC revealed that although combat veterans were more likely to die of accidents and overdoses in the first five years after their return home, after this five-year period “they seemed no more at risk than comrades who had spent the war in non-combat roles (Trauma of…).
MacKenzie goes on report however that Joseph Boscarino of the New York Academy of Medicine also reviewed the same data as the CDC in an effort to examine outcomes for veterans suffering with PTSD. In his review of the data, Boscarino found that there were stark differences in death rates that persisted for 30 years after the veteran returned home. Additionally, Boscarino found that while the cause of death for veterans with PTSD included “accidents, drugs or suicide,” veterans with PTSD were also more likely to die of natural causes such as heart disease and cancer. MacKenzie contends that while the link between PTSD and heart disease has been reported in the literature, the link between PTSD and cancer has not been established otherwise. Based on the data provided by Boscarino, PTSD may lead to a host of physical health complications that can increase death rate by natural causes.
To support the research provided by Boscarino, MacKenzie goes on to note another study in which researchers found that Israeli veterans of fighting in Lebanon in 1982 who developed PTSD were more likely to have a host of physical health aliments including: high blood pressure, ulcers, diabetes, heart disease and head aches. In an effort to understand the impact of this condition, MacKenzie concludes her article by speculating what the outcomes will be for soldiers currently serving in Iraq. According to statistics released from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 18% of Iraqi war veterans or 60,000 soldiers could suffer from PTSD. Given the implications of this research, MacKenzie provides a call to action in an effort to mitigate the negative physical health outcomes that may befall these veterans.
Review of Current Research on PTSD
Based on the data provided in the article, it would appear as if current Iraqi war veterans suffering from PTSD face a precarious future. Based on the research provided by MacKenzie, it appears as if soldiers struggling with PTSD may face physical health complications that will have long-term ramifications for their overall function, well-being and quality of life. Although MacKenzie presents some compelling evidence, it is important to consider current empirical research on PTSD to discern if MacKenzie’s arguments are valid. As such, a review of empirical data collected on victims of PTSD and physical health outcomes is warranted.
A critical review of the most current literature on the impact of PTSD on physical health clearly demonstrates that there is an emerging link between PTSD and heart disease. According to Ramonoff (2006) new data collected on war veterans and PTSD demonstrates that these individuals have a higher incidence of heart disease than the general population overall. Ramonoff contends that while the mechanism the triggers the development of cardiovascular disease in patients with PTSD has not been fully delineated, there is ample evidence which suggests that this condition is more prevalent in this population. Further, Ginzburg (2004) completed a longitudinal study in which individuals diagnosed with PTSD and heart disease were matched with controls to determine the impact of PTSD. The results of the investigation indicate that there is a direct link between the development and severity of the disease and the presence of PTSD.
While the current research suggests that there is a definitive link between PTSD and heart disease, a review of the literature on post-traumatic stress disorder also reveals that this condition has been linked to a host of other physical health issues. For instance, Martz and Livneh (2007) found that individuals with a history of PTSD were more likely to develop diabetes that individuals that had several risk factors for the disease — i.e. overweight, smoking, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, family history or age. According to these authors, PTSD increases the levels of specific hormones and suppresses immune system response. Often the response is maintained over a long period of time creating a situation in which individuals with PTSD are more likely to develop chronic health problems.
Finally, Weisler, Barbee and Townsend (2006) reviewed patients that had developed PTSD after Hurricane Katrina. This population was matched with a control sample from the general population to examine the prevalence of specific health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. The results of the investigation demonstrated that individuals suffering from PTSD had higher rates of these conditions, even after demographic variable were controlled. Thus, the current scholarly research provided on PTSD clearly suggests that physical health problems are more prevalent in patients that are suffering from PTSD.
Assessment of MacKenzie’s Work
Based on the empirical literature provided above, it is evident that the assertions made by MacKenzie (2005) in her article are supported. The only issue that does not appear to be covered in the scholarly literature is the link between PTSD and cancer. In her article, MacKenzie argues that one researcher suggested a link between PTSD and cancer. However, MacKenzie also noted that this link has not been supported by other research. By quantifying this data, MacKenzie is able to justify the utilization of this information without making a false claim. For this reason, there appears to be ample support demonstrating the accuracy and integrity of the data reported by MacKenzie.
In many instances, data reported in the popular press is sensationalized such that the journalist can make a dramatic point. While this occurs in many instances, this assertion is not justified in the case. A comprehensive review of the scholarly literature on post-traumatic stress disorder clearly demonstrates that this condition can have devastating impacts on both mental and physical health outcomes. Although the specific outcomes that will be achieved for the patient will vary, the reality is that individuals afflicted with this condition face a grim reality. Thus, MacKenzie’s call to action is not unwarranted. As many as 60,000 Iraqi war veterans will return home with PTSD. While it is not reasonable to assume that all of these veterans will struggle with health complications as a result of this condition — this seems to be implied in MacKenzie’s article — the devastating implications of this condition clearly warrant some consideration in terms of treatment.
In the final analysis of MacKenzie’s work, it is clear that this author provides a fair and honest account of PTSD and its physical health implications. Although MacKenzie appears to overstep her boundaries — arguing that 60,000 soldiers will be negatively impacted by this condition — the evidence does support MacKenzie’s call to action. Mental health providers, communities and families must consider the long-term implications of the current war in Iraq. This point seems to lie at the heart of the argument made by MacKenzie. If efforts are not made to address this issue before it has a negative impact on health, a substantial portion of the population could suffer needlessly.
Clearly, MacKenzie has selected research studies and articles that will sensationalize her claim and serve as the impetus for a call to action. Although MacKenzie appears to have a deep passion for motivating change in this area, the data that she reports does not represent a minority opinion. Throughout the medical community, there is a growing awareness that PTSD will have negative implications for physical health outcomes. Thus, while MacKenzie does not provide any dissenting opinion in her argument, it is evident that there is a paucity of data which refutes the claims made by the author. In this situation, MacKenzie has done a fair and adequate job representing the truth.
Ginzburg, K. (2004). PTST and world assumptions following myocardial infarction: A longitudinal study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 74(3), 286-292.
MacKenzie, D. (2005). Trauma of war hits troops years later. New Scientist. Accessed October 23, 2007 at http://www.newscientist.com/channel/health/mg18725143.800-trauma-of-war-hits-troops-years-later.html.
Martz, E., & Livneh, H. (2007). Do posttraumatic reactions predict future time perspective among people with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus? Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 50(2), 87-98.
Romanoff, M.R. (2006). Assessing military veterans for posttraumatic stress disorder. American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 18(9), 409-413.
Weisler, R.H., Barbee, J.G., & Townsend, M.H. (2006). Mental health and recovery in the gulf coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Journal of the American Medical Association, 296(5), 585-588.
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