Autonomic dysfunction and cardiovascular risk in post-traumatic stress disorder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. The underlying mechanisms are unclear but impaired autonomic function may contribute. However, research in this field has shown contradictory results and the causal links between PTSD, autonomic dysfunction, and cardiovascular risk remain unknown. This brief review summarizes the current knowledge on alterations in autonomic function and cardiovascular risk in patients with PTSD. Literature search strategy: A PubMed search of the literature was performed using the following keywords: autonomic function, heart rate variability, blood pressure variability, sympathetic activity, baroreflex function, and cardiovascular risk in combination with PTSD. Evidence-based studies conducted between 2000 and 2021 were selected. Results: In total 1221 articles were identified and of these, 61 (48 original research papers, 13 review articles) were included in this review. Many, though not all, studies have reported increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system and decreased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (namely, autonomic imbalance) in PTSD patients. There seems to be enough evidence to suggest impairments in baroreflex function in PTSD, leading to blood pressure dysregulation. It appears that the chronicity of PTSD diagnosis and symptom severity are independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which may be linked with impaired autonomic function. Conclusions: Increased cardiovascular risk may be associated with autonomic dysfunction in PTSD. Whether autonomic dysfunction can serve as a biomarker for the onset and progression of PTSD remains to be determined. It also needs to determine if autonomic imbalance increases the risk of developing PTSD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102923
JournalAutonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Autonomic imbalance
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Hypertension
  • Inflammation
  • Parasympathetic activity
  • Sympathetic activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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