Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD
) is linked to poor health, including cardiovascular disease. These effects may be a result of increased tonic cardiovascular function and cardiovascular reactivity
. Despite PTSD
’s negative health burden, relatively little is known about whether frontline treatments for PTSD
may alleviate cardiovascular risk.
The current study was a secondary analysis of a larger intervention study of active-duty soldiers with PTSD
= 104; mean [SD] age = 30.6 [6.7] years; 6% women) randomized to an exposure therapy—either prolonged exposure
(PE) or virtual reality exposure (VRE)—or a waitlist control condition. We examined change in participants’ resting heart rate
(HR) and HR reactivity from baseline (before randomization) to midtreatment and posttreatment using residualized change regression models.
The results of the study demonstrated decreased resting HR (B
= −5.06, p
= .024) and HR reactivity (B
= −2.46, p
= .005) from baseline to posttreatment of PE and VRE relative to waitlist. Exploratory analyses found that changes in resting HR and HR reactivity were not significantly correlated with either self-reported or clinician-rated PTSD
These results suggest that PE and VRE for PTSD
may alleviate some cardiovascular health risk associated with PTSD
, improving cardiovascular functioning.
RCT Registration:ClinicalTrials.gov (identifier: NCT01193725).