Cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality disproportionately affect traumatized individuals, likely due to the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms on dysregulated cardiovascular responses to stress. Individuals with more PTSD symptoms demonstrate more exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity to stress (larger than normal increases in blood pressure and heart rate), a major risk factor for the onset of cardiovascular diseases. The contributions of PTSD symptoms to exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity warrant greater scientific and clinical attention considering that a majority of individuals will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, with most developing at least some PTSD symptoms. While the association between PTSD symptoms and exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity to trauma-related and physiological stressors has been consistently demonstrated, the influence of PTSD symptoms on cardiovascular reactivity to psychosocial stressors has not been examined. Repeated exaggerated cardiovascular responses to psychosocial stress may be a pathway by which PTSD symptoms elevate CVD onset risk. Further, negative cognitive appraisals may be one mechanism by which PTSD symptoms influence current cardiovascular reactivity to stress and eventually long-term cardiovascular health. The present study will examine relationships among PTSD symptoms, cognitive appraisals, and cardiovascular stress reactivity to accomplish the following aims: (1) Test the effects of PTSD symptoms on exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity in response to a current psychosocial stressor; (2) Assess whether cognitive appraisals of stressfulness and threat, in relation to a current psychosocial stressor, are associated with exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity; (3) Determine whether cognitive appraisals of stressfulness and threat are mechanisms by which PTSD symptoms affect exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity to a current psychosocial stressor. Using a laboratory stress induction, data will be collected from a sample of 80 adults and analyzed with correlations, regressions, and mediation analyses. This study supports NHLBI's mission of primary prevention of cardiovascular disease development by identifying cognitive appraisals as a mechanism whereby psychological trauma and stress contribute to cardiovascular disease onset. Conducting this study will be part of an individualized training program focused on cardiovascular behavioral medicine that includes receiving specialized training in biostatistics, theory and empirical research, cardiovascular reactivity measurement, professional identity development, scientific writing, and community-engaged research.

Public Health Relevance

Individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms experience dysregulated cardiovascular responses to stress, which may contribute to their higher rates of morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular diseases. This study will examine PTSD symptoms and cognitive factors that predict dysregulated cardiovascular stress reactivity, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease onset. Understanding the effects of PTSD symptoms on cardiovascular stress reactivity via cognitive appraisals will advance knowledge about the potential mechanisms underlying the link between PTSD symptoms and cardiovascular diseases.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Stoney, Catherine
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University of Connecticut
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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