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Open Access Open Badges Commentary

Health surveillance of deployed military personnel occasionally leads to unexpected findings

Alexander C McFarlane

Author Affiliations

Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies, University of Adelaide, Adelaide SA 5000, Australia

BMC Medicine 2012, 10:126  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-10-126

Published: 24 October 2012


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be caused by life threatening illness, such as cancer and coronary events. The study by Forbes et al. made the unexpected finding that military personnel evacuation with medical illness have similar rates of PTSD to those evacuated with combat injuries. It may be that the illness acts as a nonspecific stressor that interacts with combat exposures to increase the risk of PTSD. Conversely, the inflammatory consequence of systemic illness may augment the effects to traumatic stress and facilitate the immunological abnormalities that are now being associated with PTSD and depression. The impact of the stress on cytokine systems and their role in the onset of PTSD demands further investigation. Military personnel evacuated due to physical illness require similar screening and monitoring for the risk of PTSD to those injured who are already known to be at high risk.

PTSD; inflammation; physical illness; cytokines; allostatic load; sensitization; combat; military