The Impact of Exposure Therapy on Resting Heart Rate and Heart Rate Reactivity Among Active-Duty Soldiers With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.


Journal Article

OBJECTIVE:Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is linked to poor health, including cardiovascular disease. These effects may be a result of increased tonic cardiovascular function and cardiovascular reactivity. Despite PTSD's negative health burden, relatively little is known about whether frontline treatments for PTSD may alleviate cardiovascular risk. METHODS:The current study was a secondary analysis of a larger intervention study of active-duty soldiers with PTSD (n = 104; mean [SD] age = 30.6 [6.7] years; 6% women) randomized to an exposure therapy-either prolonged exposure (PE) or virtual reality exposure (VRE)-or a waitlist control condition. We examined change in participants' resting heart rate (HR) and HR reactivity from baseline (before randomization) to midtreatment and posttreatment using residualized change regression models. RESULTS:The results of the study demonstrated decreased resting HR (B = -5.06, p = .024) and HR reactivity (B = -2.46, p = .005) from baseline to posttreatment of PE and VRE relative to waitlist. Exploratory analyses found that changes in resting HR and HR reactivity were not significantly correlated with either self-reported or clinician-rated PTSD symptom change. CONCLUSIONS:These results suggest that PE and VRE for PTSD may alleviate some cardiovascular health risk associated with PTSD, improving cardiovascular functioning.RCT Registration: (identifier: NCT01193725).

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Bourassa, KJ; Stevens, ES; Katz, AC; Rothbaum, BO; Reger, GM; Norr, AM

Published Date

  • January 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 82 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 108 - 114

PubMed ID

  • 31880749

Pubmed Central ID

  • 31880749

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1534-7796

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0033-3174

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1097/psy.0000000000000758


  • eng