The long-term costs of traumatic stress: intertwined physical and psychological consequences

Alexander C. McFarlane


Originally Published In: World Psychiatry 9:1
Year: 2010


This article is reference for: Neurofeedback Therapy and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The gradual emergence of symptoms following exposure to traumatic events has presented a major conceptual challenge to psychiatry. The mechanism that causes the progressive escalation of symptoms with the passage of time leading to delayed onset post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves the process of sensitization and kindling. The development of traumatic memories at the time of stress exposure represents a major vulnerability through repeated environmental triggering of the increasing dysregulation of an individual’s neurobiology. An increasing body of evidence demonstrates how the increased allostatic load associated with PTSD is associated with a significant body of physical morbidity in the form of chronic musculoskeletal pain, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, obesity and cardiovascular disease. This increasing body of literature suggests that the effects of traumatic stress need to be considered as a major environmental challenge that places individual’s physical and psychological health equally at risk. This broader perspective has important implications for developing treatments that address the underlying dysregulation of cortical arousal and neurohormonal abnormalities following exposure to traumatic stress.