U.S. soldiers who’ve suffered severe combat injuries are at high risk for chronic diseases, according to a new study.
“The more severely a service member is injured, the more likely they are to develop a wide variety of chronic medical conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and hardening of the arteries,” study lead author Major Ian Stewart, a researcher at the David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base in California, said in a news release from the American Heart Association.
The study included more than 3,800 soldiers injured in Afghanistan or Iraq. All received scores ranging from 1 to 75 based on the severity of their wounds. The higher the score, the worse the injuries.
The researchers found that for every five-point increase in injury score, the risk of high blood pressure rose 6 percent; coronary artery disease and diabetes jumped 13 percent; and chronic kidney disease increased 15 percent.
The investigators also found that veterans who developed chronic diseases tended to be older, had higher injury scores and more serious kidney damage.
When wounds were complicated by kidney damage, the risk of high blood pressure rose 66 percent and the risk of chronic kidney disease was nearly five times higher, the study revealed.
High blood pressure rates were 69 percent higher among injured black veterans than wounded white veterans, the researchers said.
Among the most severely injured veterans, rates of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and diabetes were significantly higher than overall in the U.S. military, according to the study published Nov. 2 in the journal Circulation.
Inflammation may be the reason why combat injuries increase the risk of chronic disease, the study authors suggested. Post-traumatic stress disorder — a mental health disorder common among wounded veterans — may also play a role directly through inflammation or indirectly by leading to weight gain or substance abuse, the researchers said.
“Our study lays important ground work to better understand the longer-term effects of combat-related injury on the risk of chronic disease,” Stewart said in the news release.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about veterans and health.