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Front Psychol. 2015 Jan 21;5:1571. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01571. eCollection 2014.

Maladaptive autonomic regulation in PTSD accelerates physiological aging.

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Brain Rehabilitation and Research Center, Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center , Gainesville, FL, USA ; Center for Neuropsychological Studies, Department of Neurology, University of Florida College of Medicine , Gainesville, FL, USA.
Brain Rehabilitation and Research Center, Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center , Gainesville, FL, USA ; Institute on Aging, Department of Aging and Geriatric Research, University of Florida , Gainesville, FL, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill , Durham, NC, USA.


A core manifestation of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disconnection between physiological state and psychological or behavioral processes necessary to adequately respond to environmental demands. Patients with PTSD experience abnormal oscillations in autonomic states supporting either fight and flight behaviors or withdrawal, immobilization, and dissociation without an intervening "calm" state that would provide opportunities for positive social interactions. This defensive autonomic disposition is adaptive in dangerous and life threatening situations, but in the context of every-day life may lead to significant psychosocial distress and deteriorating social relationships. The perpetuation of these maladaptive autonomic responses may contribute to the development of comorbid mental health issues such as depression, loneliness, and hostility that further modify the nature of cardiovascular behavior in the context of internal and external stressors. Over time, changes in autonomic, endocrine, and immune function contribute to deteriorating health, which is potently expressed in brain dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. In this theoretical review paper, we present an overview of the literature on the chronic health effects of PTSD. We discuss the brain networks underlying PTSD in the context of autonomic efferent and afferent contributions and how disruption of these networks leads to poor health outcomes. Finally, we discuss treatment approaches based on our theoretical model of PTSD.


PTSD; aging; autonomic nervous system; chronic stress; polyvagal theory

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