Mar 20, 2017

From our Vietnam Veteran Study, post traumatic stress disorder has been shown to have a significant impact on your physical health, in particular your gastrointestinal system…

The PTSD Initiative’s Vietnam Veteran Study, made possible by RSL Queensland, provided an indepth analysis of the psychological and physical toll of post traumatic stress disorder. This study revealed that Vietnam veterans with PTSD were three to eight time more likely to suffer from stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and constipation. They also had double the chance ofsuffering from acid reflux.

“Our study shows that PTSD can no longer be considered narrowly as a psychological disorder, rather it’s best described as a full systemic disorder,” GMRF Director of Research Professor Darrell Crawford says.

From the findings, GMRF and RSL Queensland are implementing a national GP Education Program to help general practioners identify the potential gastrointestinal and other health risks for patients diagnosed with PTSD.

A Short Guide to Gastrointestinal symptoms and diet

Stomach Pain
Almost everyone at some stage of their lives will experience stomach or abdominal pain. Most causes are not serious and resolve on their own; however, pain can be a sign of serious illness so it’s important to recognise potential causes and know when to speak to your doctor. Seek immediate attention if you experience severe pain accompanied by fever, your abdomen is tender to the touch, you are to keep food down for more than 2 days, or are showing any signs of dehydration.


Acid reflux is when acid from the stomach moves up into your oesophagus causing symptoms such as burning chest pain (often referred to as ‘heartburn’) and regurgitation causing a sour or bitter taste in the mouth. If symptoms occur more than twice a week, this is called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (‘GORD’). Mild reflux can be managed with lifestyle changes such as losing weight and avoiding foods and alcohol that can trigger symptoms, whereas GORD may require medication for treatment.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Characterised by abdominal pain, bloating, mucus in the stool, and alternating diarrhoea & constipation, IBS is a functional gut disorder that has been proposed to be caused by overly sensitive bowels due to bacterial overgrowth. IBS is not the same or as serious as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which causes inflammation, ulcers, and other damage to the bowel.

Food Poisoning

Foodborne illness, or ‘food poisoning’ can result from eating foods contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or toxins. Symptoms may include abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and/or vomiting, or flu-like symptoms. Depending on the cause, symptoms can occur within hours or take days to appear, and because of this you may not know what actually caused it.

Bowel Cancer

Symptoms of bowel (or colorectal) cancer may include signs of blood after a bowel motion, a change in normal bowel habit (constipation or diarrhoea), abdominal pain or bloating, weight loss or loss in appetite, and symptoms of anaemia such as unexplained tiredness, weakness, or breathlessness. If you experience these symptoms, it does not mean you have bowel cancer, but it is important to talk to your doctor if you experience any of them.

The importance of a healthy diet

A balanced diet and good nutrition is important not just for gut health but for overall health and reducing your risk of diseases including cancer. For example, you can reduce your risk of bowel cancer by 10% for every 10g of fibre you eat per day. Increase your intake of fruit, vegetables and legumes, eat lean meats and fish, and choose high fibre wholegrain foods and low sugar dairy products while limiting your intake of fat, salt, sugar, and alcohol.

Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about your gastrointestinal health and diet

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