Association of Posttraumatic Stress and Depressive Symptoms With Mortality in Women

JAMA Network Open

Andrea L. Roberts, Laura D. Kubzansky, Lori B. Chibnik, Eric B. Rimm, & Karestan C. Koenen



Importance: Consistent evidence has found associations between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and increased risk of chronic disease and greater prevalence of health risk factors. However, the association between PTSD and all-cause mortality has not been thoroughly investigated in civilians.

Objective: To investigate the association between PTSD symptoms, with or without comorbid depressive symptoms, and risk of death.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This prospective cohort study was conducted using data on female US nurses in the Nurses’ Health Study II followed up from 2008 to 2017. Women who responded to a 2008 questionnaire querying PTSD and depressive symptoms were included. Data were analyzed from September 2018 to November 2020.

Exposures: Symptoms of PTSD, measured using the short screening scale for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) PTSD, and depression symptoms, measured using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale–10 in 2008.

Main Outcomes and Measures: All-cause mortality was determined via National Death Index, US Postal Service, or report of participant’s family. The hypothesis being tested was formulated after data collection. Trauma exposure and PTSD symptoms were jointly coded as no trauma exposure (reference), trauma and no PTSD symptoms, 1 to 3 PTSD symptoms (subclinical), 4 to 5 PTSD symptoms (moderate), and 6 to 7 PTSD symptoms (high).

Results: Among 51 602 women (50 137 [97.2%] White individuals), the mean (range) age was 53.3 (43-64) years at study baseline in 2008. PTSD and probable depression were comorbid; of 4019 women with high PTSD symptoms, 2093 women (52.1%) had probable depression, while of 10 105 women with no trauma exposure, 1215 women (12.0%) had probable depression. Women with high PTSD symptoms and probable depression were at nearly 4-fold greater risk of death compared with women with no trauma exposure and no depression (hazard ratio [HR], 3.80; 95% CI, 2.65-5.45; P < .001). After adjustment for health factors, women with these conditions had a more than 3-fold increased risk (HR, 3.11; 95% CI, 2.16-4.47, P < .001). Women with subclinical PTSD symptoms without probable depression had increased risk of death compared with women with no trauma exposure and no depression (HR, 1.43; 95% CI, 1.06-1.93; P = .02). Among 7565 women with PTSD symptoms and probable depression, 109 deaths (1.4%) occurred for which we obtained cause of death information, compared with 124 such deaths (0.6% ) among 22 215 women with no depression or PTSD symptoms. Women with PTSD symptoms and probable depression, compared with women with no PTSD or depression, had higher rates of death from cardiovascular disease (17 women [0.22%] vs 11 women [0.05%]; P < .001), diabetes (4 women [0.05%] vs 0 women; P < .001), unintentional injury (7 women [0.09%] vs 7 women [0.03%]; P = .03), suicide (9 women [0.12%] vs 1 woman [<0.01%]; P < .001), and other causes of death (14 women [0.19%] vs 17 women [0.08%]; P = .01).

Conclusions and Relevance: These findings suggest that at midlife, women with high PTSD symptoms and co-occurring probable depression are at increased risk of death compared with women without these disorders. Treatment of PTSD and depression in women with symptoms of both disorders and efforts to improve their health behaviors may reduce their increased risk of mortality.

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