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Exposure to military trauma related to post-war disease and death in Civil War veterans

An examination of military archives and medical records indicates that Civil War veterans who watched more of their comrades die or were younger when they entered the military were more likely to develop physical and mental illnesses later in life, and younger soldiers also had a higher risk of early death after the war, according to a study in the February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

War trauma has been linked to higher rates of chronic illness and death, as well as specific conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, according to background information in the article. The Civil War may have been particularly devastating, the authors report. Friends and family members often served in the same company, leaving survivors with few friends or male relatives when companies experienced significant losses, they write. Hand-to-hand combat was common, and soldiers could easily identify with enemies who were sometimes from the same state or county.

Judith Pizarro, M.A., and colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, collected data on 303 randomly selected Civil War companies from military records and pension files, which included information about soldiers' post-war physical examinations and medical problems.

Of the 15,027 soldiers analyzed, 15 percent had no mental or physical diseases and 38.8 percent had both physical and mental conditions. Those in the youngest group (aged 9 to 17 years at the time of enlistment) were 93 percent more likely than the oldest soldiers (those aged 31 years or older) to have signs of both physical and mental disorders. The younger soldiers also were more likely to show signs of cardiovascular disease alone and signs of both cardiovascular and GI conditions, and were more likely to die early. Veterans with POW experiences had an increased risk of combined mental and physical problems as well as early death.
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Contact: Christine Byrd
949-824-9055
JAMA and Archives Journals
6-Feb-2006


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